Sunday, September 14, 2008

Other people's liberties

Interesting Washington Post article (buried in the Metro section) about the aggressive terrorism prosecution tactics of Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg, which have drawn the wrath of a prominent judge and civil rights groups. One noteworthy point about what he was doing before 9/11 --

An NYU Law School graduate who worked as a military defense attorney for the Army in the 1980s, Kromberg was using cutting-edge legal tactics before Sept. 11, 2001. After joining the U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria in 1993, the wiry, quick-witted prosecutor became an expert in forfeiture -- seizing money and property gained from crime.

He highlighted his approach during a 1999 speech at the Cato Institute in Washington, saying the government should seek the assets of drug dealers even if they are not charged. "Does that mean you should just walk away and let the activity continue? . . . Not if you want to punish the defendant in some way short of prosecuting him," he said, according to a videotape.

During the 1990s, Kromberg helped the government seize fees defense attorneys had received from drug dealers, an uncommon tactic that led to denunciations from defense lawyers nationwide.

Civil forfeiture comes very close to a run-around the presumption of innocence. Example: your car is pulled over by police and a drug-sniffing dog reacts to the car. Among the possibilities: that the dog is wrong or that there was once someone who smoked pot in your car. Civil forfeiture says that the prosecutor can still seize the car. It's the kind of things that libertarians used to get upset about. But now the mentality that could come up with that system is prosecuting terrorism cases. And the 1990s libertarians have run to the hills.

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