John Oliver takes on the overworked, underpaid challenges of the public defenders in our criminal justice system. I know some very good attorneys who are public defenders… or were until they found a job that paid a living wage. Fittingly, several of the examples he uses for this article are from Florida… most disturbing is the guy, on Hospice, who gets arrested for not having a valid driver’s license, and spends too months in jail… and then they spend thousands of dollars trying to recoup the fees and assessments. It’s symptomatic of bigger problems with the system.
I have discussed some of the issues with minimum mandatory sentences here on Crimcourts a few times; from inequities in sentencing, to the ridiculousness of a man facing a mandatory 15-year sentence for having sex on the beach (though the prosecutor on that case agreed, and declined to proceed on the PRR designation that would have mandated the mandatory minimum). The issue has gained some national traction in political discussions, mostly as it relates to our overcrowded prison populations, including critics from both the right and left.
You run the risk of injustice when you try to apply blanket results without regard to the specifics of each case. Harsh sentences are appropriate for serious offenders, but a balance needs to be struck. Non-violent drug offenders probably don’t need decades in prison, and even young people that commit violent offenses are unlikely to be a risk to society when they become senior citizens. Reform still faces as uphill battle, as it is still politically advantageous to be tough on crime, and the prison industry is lucrative and has a powerful lobbying interest, but I am hopeful common sense will ultimately bring reason to our criminal punishment structures.
John Oliver took a look on This Week Tonight, and raises some quality, and some funny, points:
Yesterday I discussed the growing practice of property forfeitures by law enforcement- even when there is not evidence to support an arrest, and how those seizures can be challenged. I was inspired by a video from John Oliver’s This Week, Tonight, that posted on Huffington Post. Yesterday, Forbes.com and Yahoo did their own article, also referencing the John Oliver video. Their article is worth a read, as well. And here is a link to the John Oliver bit, if you’ve got 15 minutes:
Law enforcement forfeitures are on the rise across the country. Cops see forfeiture as an easy way to enhance their bottom line, or to pick up some toys that they can’t otherwise get approved in their budgets. And in many State’s, the agency that does the forfeited often gets to keep the majority of the property seized, which sadly can incentivize some law enforcement agencies to be too aggressive in their seizure policies. The more they grab, the more they get to keep, and that’s a recipe for abuse of the system, especially because it is difficult to for people to fight the forfeitures. We’ve talked about the risk of abuse before on Crimcourts. John Oliver recently did a great take on the issue on “This Week, Tonight,” which is worth the 15 minutes to watch.
However, it is not impossible to fight a forfeiture. You have a right to challenge a forfeiture in court, and should talk to an experienced attorney right away. Cops will attempt a forfeiture even when the evidence doesn’t support it. They will claim a suspicion that a crime is being committed, based on their ‘training and experience’, and presumptively seize the property. However, a hunch isn’t enough to prove the case in court. The must demonstrate criminal activity by a preponderance of the evidence, and convince a jury of it. If the cops do try to seize your property, you should definitely exercise your right to fight the forfeiture.
Florida actually provides several different stages of challenging a forfeiture, and there are time considerations, which mean you should retain an attorney to help you as soon as possible. First, there are several technical filing requirements the state must follow before a forfeiture will be granted. The person who’s property is being seized has a right to a preliminary hearing, that means if they state is holding your property, they must demonstrate to a court why they should be permitted to hold it. And finally, the person has a right to make them prove their case to a jury at trial, and all of the defenses available on a criminal charge can be argued, as well as some particular to seizure cases. It can be a long, arduous process, but one that may be fruitful to follow through on.
If your property has been seized, you should contact me or another expereinced attorney right away.
Posted in Civil, Criminal Law, Drugs, Florida, Forfeiture, Police, Uncategorized
Tagged badcops, forfeiture, john oliver, seizure, spencer Cordell