Civil Rights

BREAKING NEWS January 2, 2015:  Orange County Civil Asset Forfeiture Law vetoed!

Both our elected Democratic leaders and our rank and file members strongly opposed the Asset Forfeiture bill being sought by District Attorney David Hoovler and Republican members of the Orange County Legislature. Every Democratic member of the Orange County Legislature voted against this bill and many of our members spoke out against it in the press and at public comment. As such, the Orange County Democratic Committee strongly supports County Executive Steven Neuhaus’ decision to veto Mr. Hoovler’s Asset Forfeiture bill.

We now call upon the County Executive to impress upon his Republican colleagues in the Orange County Legislature to not bring this bill back to the Legislature to attempt an override of the veto. The Asset Forfeiture bill would have been an unconstitutional overreach by the Orange County government and the Republicans should end their attempts to force this law onto the residents of Orange County.

Brett Broge, Chair of the Orange County Democratic Committee

 My View:  Times Herald-Record Sunday, December 28, 2014, p. 11

Seizing addicts’ property won’t help

By Michael Isgur

The war on drugs started under President Nixon.  Think about that. For over 40 years, we’ve been trying to eliminate the use of narcotics from our society.

We’ve spent billions of dollars, locked up so many people we have a higher rate of incarceration than the Soviet Union did, done real harm to some of our most fundamental Constitutional protections, and for what?  The heroin epidemic now under way in New York is pretty good evidence that we have not succeeded.  Politicians wanting to look tough on crime keep telling us the solution is to go further.  More money. Stiffer penalties.  To coin a phrase:  How’s that working out for you? 

Drug addiction is a mental illness.  Criminalizing it makes about as much sense as criminalizing tuberculosis.  They’ve done brain scans of addicts.  There are visible differences between the way someone’s brain functions when they’re actively addicted to cocaine or heroin, and a normal person.  And it takes about a year of not using drugs for the brain to return to normal. 

What does that tell us?   It tells us that we are  not going to deter someone from using drugs with the threat of criminal penalties.  At least, not once they’re addicted.  They literally aren’t thinking the way you and I do. 

Should we give up?  Legalize it all?  No.   Although my libertarian side is drawn to that, the fact is that for addicts it is a terrible idea.  They’re sick.  We shouldn’t punish the sick as criminals, but we also shouldn’t just leave them out there to harm themselves and sometimes others. 

I used the metaphor of tuberculosis.  It think it’s a good one.  If people who are sick voluntarily seek treatment, we should give it to them.  If they won’t do anything to get needed treatment or actively refuse it, then we have every right to take appropriate measures for the protection of the community, just as we might quarantine someone with an infectious disease. 

What does this mean in practical terms?  One promising innovation is drug court.  This is a program that allows addicts to get treatment rather than going to jail for low-level crimes like drug possession and petty theft.  While this is only one of many possible approaches, it is certainly one that seems to be effective at ending addiction, reducing crime, and protecting all of us. 

All of that’s a long-winded background to what I really want to talk about.  The county legislature has passed a new law that provides for civil forfeiture in misdemeanor drug cases.  So if an addict is caught with drugs, the county can take their car or other property.  These are not drug dealers.  (If the district attorney is letting heroin dealers plead to misdemeanors, we’ve got bigger problems).  These are people in possession of small amounts of narcotics. 

Leaving aside the substantial concerns this raises about policing for profit and erosion of our liberty, everything I’ve said so far should make it clear why I believe this is exactly the wrong approach.  This is more of the “get tough on  crime”, which has failed us for 40 years.  It is fundamentally misguided.  Addicts will not be deterred by this.  Crime will not be prevented.  No one will be made safer. 

There will be an opportunity for public comment on this law before it is enacted.  Go.  Make your voice heard.  Let our county government know that there are better ways to deal with the problem of drug addiction.  Let them know we’d rather they got smart about crime than uselessly tough. 

Michael Isgur of Crawford is a solo practitioner attorney in Middletown, practicing for 18 years.


Mid Hudson Times - Wed., December 24, 2014 -  Letters to the Editor

NO to Civil Forfeiture Law in Orange County

Imagine law enforcement seizing your money, property or car without you being convicted, indicted or arrested for a crime.  In order to get your property  back, you have to prove that your property is innocent because law enforcement will claim that the property is allegedly connected to a crime.  If you are not successful in getting your property back, law enforcement will sell it, and the proceeds will go to law enforcement agencies and county government.  This is Civil Forfeiture.

Many Republicans, Democrats, conservative activists and think tanks support reforming this law due to its abuse against Americans and encouraging policing for profit.  A state judge in Pennsylvania called the civil asset forfeiture process “state-sanctioned theft”.  This law ignores the 4th, 5th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.

All the Orange County legislators were provided with documentation of factual cases of civil forfeiture abuse;  law enforcement agencies and local municipalities using the proceeds of forfeiture properties, cash and cars to balance their budgets;  articles from conservative think tanks like The Heritage Foundation against this law and public comments from citizens, attorneys and former police officers expressing their view against this law.  The Democrats voted against this law, but thanks to the Republicans, this could be law in Orange County.

The Republican legislators voted for expanded and intrusive government, and disregarded our constitutional rights.  You have an opportunity to express your views at a public hearing being held on Monday, December 29, 2014 at 10 A.M. at 40 Matthews Street, Goshen.  Please contact County Executive Neuhaus and ask him not to sign this law.

If the Republican legislators believe in limited government, the Constitution, not balancing budgets on the backs of taxpayers, and still support law enforcement, they would not have voted for this law.  Now the Orange County Executive has an opportunity to do the right thing.

Sonia Ayala, Town of Blooming Grove

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  • David Lindsay
    commented 2018-01-08 16:48:51 -0500
    needs to be updated