Across the country, police use civil asset forfeiture as a tool in the War on Drugs. When the police deem property or money to be associated with a drug crime, they can seize it. Then, the owner has to prove that the assets were not connected with a crime. If they can't, they lose the assets forever -- even if they are not convicted of any crime. The police agency that seized the assets gets to keep them.
In the 1980s and 1990s, both states and the federal government began to crack down on drug offenses at every level. Fighting drug crime was prioritized. Mandatory minimum sentence laws were passed. Prosecutors began stacking sentences to keep people in prison for longer.
Right now, Iowa and most jurisdictions deal with drug abuse almost exclusively through law enforcement. If you're caught with a prohibited drug, or one you don't have a prescription for, you can be arrested, charged and convicted of a criminal offense. In most cases, that means you'll be incarcerated -- with little to no access to drug treatment.
In 2018, a Mexican immigrant who had been brought to the U.S. as a teenager was convicted in Iowa of intent to deliver marijuana. During a 2017 traffic stop, officers allegedly found 184 one-pound bags of marijuana and a handgun in his car. Although he claimed he had been using the marijuana to treat back pain, Guillermo A. pled guilty to the charge.
The next time you ride Amtrak, you may encounter an agent from the Drug Enforcement Administration asking you to allow a search of your belongings. Don't consent -- especially if you have something to hide.
Many people call it a punitive measure or an extra punishment for distributing drugs. If you're caught dealing illegal drugs in Iowa, you may be charged with tax evasion if you didn't obtain excise tax stamps for what you sell. Having the stamps proves you've paid the required taxes.
The American Bar Association's (ABA's) House of Delegates and the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (NACDL) have just passed a unanimous resolution urging Congress to fully fund the federal First Step Act and to make it retroactive.
Diversion programs offer a way for people with minimal criminal histories to avoid becoming trapped in the criminal justice system.
A recent study released by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leading public interest law firm, calls into question a number of justifications for civil asset forfeiture. Contrary to claims by law enforcement, seizing property from criminal suspects does not appear to meaningfully reduce crime rates or lessen drug use. Far from being used to fight major drug traffickers, civil asset forfeiture is usually deployed against the poor and people of color.
As we discussed on this blog last December, the First Step Act was a bipartisan reform law that promised relief for federal defendants and prisoners in several areas. The Act was expected to be especially helpful to minority defendants, as minorities have traditionally been sentenced more harshly than whites for equivalent crimes. The first major overhaul of the federal criminal justice system in decades, the First Step Act was signed into law by President Trump on Dec. 21, 2018.