Sunday, June 16, 2024
Hawai'i Free Press

Current Articles | Archives

Wednesday, December 30, 2020
Asset Forfeiture: Report shows the high cost of innocence in Hawaii
By News Release @ 12:00 PM :: 3075 Views :: Hawaii Statistics, Law Enforcement

Report shows the high cost of innocence in Hawaii

by Daryl James, Institute for Justice

Crime does not pay, but innocence can cost more when police conduct searches and seize property in Hawaii. Even if a person has done nothing wrong—and can prove it in court—the expenses associated with recovering assets quickly add up. Many people calculate the costs and simply walk away.

Policing for Profit, a nationwide report released Dec. 14 from the nonprofit Institute for Justice, shows that 84% of government property grabs go uncontested when local agencies initiate administrative cases with the Hawaii Department of the Attorney General. Regardless of a person’s guilt or innocence, giving up is often the most fiscally prudent response to a process called civil forfeiture.

The moneymaking scheme, which operates with few checks in Hawaii, allows the government to seize and take title to cars, cash and other valuables without ever convicting anyone of a crime. Some forfeiture targets never even face arrest.

The law does not care. Civil forfeiture puts property on trial, not people. Prosecutors in Hawaii merely must prove by a “preponderance of the evidence” that assets are associated with criminal conduct. The language sounds fancy, but it basically means a coin flip. The government barely must show a 50% likelihood that the evidence weighs in its favor.

Once agencies transfer ownership to themselves, they do not have to share the windfall with anyone. Hawaii allows police, prosecutors and the attorney general to split 100% of the proceeds among themselves—up to $3 million per year. The result is a system of perverse incentives, which invites cash-strapped agencies to confiscate as much property as possible and then overwhelm people who dare to resist in a costly and confusing maze of bureaucracy.

Those who fight back must choose their defense strategy up front. They can demand their day in court, which requires a cash bond and other expenses, or they can file a petition with the attorney general—the same person with a financial stake in the outcome. Property owners who go this route can have their claim rejected without ever speaking to a neutral judge.

Either way, property owners must navigate strict deadlines and filing requirements, something difficult to do without help from an attorney. Hiring someone might cost $3,000 or more, and property owners must pay out of their own pockets because the entire process is civil, which means nobody has a right to counsel.

A person does not need an accounting degree to run the cost-benefit analysis. Although Hawaii does not report data necessary to calculate average forfeiture amounts, the median value in states that share information is $1,276. The math is sobering. Innocent people who fight back and win might end up paying double or triple what a guilty person pays by simply doing nothing.

The skewed system is one reason Hawaii earns a D- in the nationwide Institute for Justice report, which evaluates federal and state civil forfeiture laws in three main areas: The standard of proof the government must meet to forfeit assets, the protections provided to innocent owners, and the share of revenue that flows to law enforcement coffers.

A 2018 report from Hawaii’s state auditor reveals additional problems with civil forfeiture. Lawmakers approved legislation in 2019 to eliminate the perverse financial incentives and improve procedural protections for property owners, but Gov. David Ige responded to pressure from local prosecutors and vetoed the bill.

As the lobbying shows, local agencies like the moneymaking scheme too much. When cash runs low, all they have to do is step up their patrols until they find vulnerable targets. After that, proving guilt or innocence is optional. Money flows into their coffers either way.

Daryl James is a writer at the nonprofit Institute for Justice in Arlington, Va.

SA: AG Response -- Civil forfeiture is a deterrent to crime


TEXT "follow HawaiiFreePress" to 40404

Register to Vote


Aloha Pregnancy Care Center


Antonio Gramsci Reading List

A Place for Women in Waipio

Ballotpedia Hawaii

Broken Trust

Build More Hawaiian Homes Working Group

Christian Homeschoolers of Hawaii

Cliff Slater's Second Opinion

DVids Hawaii


Fix Oahu!

Frontline: The Fixers

Genetic Literacy Project

Grassroot Institute

Hawaii Aquarium Fish Report

Hawaii Aviation Preservation Society

Hawaii Catholic TV

Hawaii Christian Coalition

Hawaii Cigar Association

Hawaii ConCon Info

Hawaii Debt Clock

Hawaii Defense Foundation

Hawaii Family Forum

Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United

Hawaii Farmer's Daughter

Hawaii Federation of Republican Women

Hawaii History Blog

Hawaii Jihadi Trial

Hawaii Legal News

Hawaii Legal Short-Term Rental Alliance

Hawaii Matters

Hawaii Military History

Hawaii's Partnership for Appropriate & Compassionate Care

Hawaii Public Charter School Network

Hawaii Rifle Association

Hawaii Shippers Council

Hawaii Together


Hiram Fong Papers

Homeschool Legal Defense Hawaii

Honolulu Navy League

Honolulu Traffic

House Minority Blog

Imua TMT

Inouye-Kwock, NYT 1992

Inside the Nature Conservancy

Inverse Condemnation

July 4 in Hawaii

Land and Power in Hawaii

Lessons in Firearm Education

Lingle Years

Managed Care Matters -- Hawaii

Missile Defense Advocacy

MIS Veterans Hawaii

NAMI Hawaii

National Parents Org Hawaii

NFIB Hawaii News

NRA-ILA Hawaii


OHA Lies

Opt Out Today

Patients Rights Council Hawaii

Practical Policy Institute of Hawaii

Pritchett Cartoons

Pro-GMO Hawaii

Rental by Owner Awareness Assn

Research Institute for Hawaii USA

Rick Hamada Show

RJ Rummel

School Choice in Hawaii

Talking Tax

Tax Foundation of Hawaii

The Real Hanabusa

Time Out Honolulu

Trustee Akina KWO Columns

West Maui Taxpayers Association

What Natalie Thinks

Whole Life Hawaii