by Ronald Fraser
As Maryland law enforcement agencies rake in millions seized in drug cases, is justice being served?
On the streets, where illegal drugs are still easy to get at affordable prices, Maryland police chiefs are losing the decades-long drug war. But many departments have come to depend on drug raids to increase their operating budgets. While the drug trade still enriches the bad guys, police chiefs now also get a piece of the action.
Many states, wary of overzealous police departments, require that the proceeds from seized assets be used for education or other non-police purposes. But the 1984 federal Comprehensive Crime Control Act, a turning point in America’s war on drugs, is a way to get around these state laws. It allows state and local police departments, working with U.S. agents, to “federalize” money and property seized during local drug raids. The federal government gets at least 20 percent of the seized assets, giving back up to 80 percent – now exempt from state law – to state and local police agencies.
One might assume that the filing of criminal charges would necessarily precede the seizure of property – but shockingly, this is not the case. For example, a motel may be seized because drugs were traded on the premises despite the owners’ extensive efforts to prevent such activity; or cash may be seized, only to be returned years later after the owner is forced into a long and costly legal battle.
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