Answers to “You Decide” Boxes
Suggested answers to “You Decide” boxes in the text provide a well-researched rationale behind the recommended response to key issues facing the law enforcement profession.
This information was obtained from AZCentral.com, an article titled RICO Law Criticized as Open to Abuse, by JJ Hensley - Oct. 5, 2009 http://www.azcentral.com/news/election/azelections/articles/2009/10/05/20091005ricoseize1005.html#ixzz3e2kfMc00
When implemented correctly, body-worn cameras can help strengthen the policing profession. These cameras can help promote agency accountability and transparency, and they can be useful tools for increasing officer professionalism, improving officer training, preserving evidence, and documenting encounters with the public. However, they also raise issues as a practical matter and at the policy level, both of which agencies must thoughtfully examine. Police agencies must determine what adopting body-worn cameras will mean in terms of police-community relationships, privacy, trust and legitimacy, and internal procedural justice for officers.
When Maricopa County Sheriff's deputies shut down a suspected gambling ring in April, 2007 that stretched from the Southeast Valley to Costa Rica, the case was hailed as a victory for Arizona, legally and financially. The announcement of the bust also came with pronouncements of a potential windfall for the participating law-enforcement agencies. Sheriff's officials boasted that law-enforcement agencies expected to collect $145 million in confiscated assets before Operation High Stakes was done.
Hopes on the part of the Sheriff's Office of reaping more than $100 million were dashed in September when a judge formally dismissed charges against one of the final defendants involved—James Bennitt—after others pleaded to low-level misdemeanors. Just over $8 million was seized, and attorneys estimate that 90 percent of that was returned. As the case fizzled, defense attorneys said state laws allowing seizure of cash and property from defendants suspected of committing a variety of crimes for financial gain encouraged police to first lay claim to everything they could, and then later try to link the seized assets to criminal activity.
Defense attorneys contend there is a potential for abuse from law enforcement, which reaps the seized assets and spends the proceeds on an array of items ranging from office supplies to take-home cars for top administrators. Prosecutors say the initial seizure prevents defendants from transferring assets and stashing cash that police could never recover if they had to wait for a conviction in a criminal case.
Law-enforcement agencies in Maricopa County collected more than $17 million in state and federal RICO Act funds during the last budget year. That's a small fraction of the combined annual budgets for all the law-enforcement agencies in the county. But when police are experiencing layoffs, furloughs, and spending cuts, seizures can take on heightened importance, attorneys said.
"Especially in a time of budget crisis, there is a concern . . . that agencies are going to be more aggressive because they can take care of some of their budget problems on the backs of people who haven't been convicted of a crime and aren't in a position to defend themselves," said Bennitt's attorney, Jean-Jacques Cabou.
The state statute also allows agencies to seize assets not directly linked to a criminal enterprise without a hearing, which leaves suspects with the burden of proving that their houses, cars, and bank accounts are not the product of criminal activity—something that is difficult to do when funds to hire a lawyer are frozen, Belanger said. "Even a well-intended law can be used for malicious purposes," he said. "Law enforcement, they're incentivized. That's how human nature works. If the money they seize goes back into their pockets, there's at least some incentive to abuse forfeiture laws."