Thursday, November 13, 2014


Original Story:

GOSHEN — A controversial new law that would allow police in Orange County to seize a defendant's property in misdemeanor drug cases moved a step forward last week.

The Public Safety Committee unanimously approved the law sought by the district attorney, David Hoovler. It would give police the authority to seize cash, phones, cars, and other property from people arrested for drugs. An Orange County DWI Lawyer represents clients charged with felonies, misdemeanors, violations and DWI.

The law had previously been withdrawn by legislators concerned about its broad nature. The law was sent back to committee by the full legislature again on Nov. 6.

The law will have a “disproportionate impact on the poor and the least well-to-do in the county," said Brett Broge, the new chair of the Orange County Democratic Party. He said Hoovler, with the support of county Executive Steve Neuhaus, is "shooting for this low-hanging fruit and attacking the poor.”

Legislator Shannon Wong (D-Goshen) says the proposed law gets the “innocent until proven guilty” basis of American law “backwards.” She said she’s worried about the burden on the accused, who will have to defend themselves twice, and about the pursuit of non-criminal defendants who obtain property as a result of a criminal transaction. Seizures could affect people's ability to get to work, she said. A Westchester Couny DWI Lawyer has managed a variety of DWI cases.

Committee chair Ken Hines (R-Cornwall) had opposed the law as initially written. "We don't want to be in the repossession business," he said. But last week, he voted with the rest of his committee members to approve it.

The initial law would have allowed assets to be seized in all misdemeanor cases, including DWI. The revised law limits seizures to drug cases.

At the meeting, Hoovler and fellow prosecutors offered to remove marijuana from the law. But Hines questioned this, and, with support from legislators John Vero (R-Chester) and Christopher Eachus (D-New Windsor), marijuana was put back in.

Legislators Melissa Bonacic (R-New Hampton), James DiSalvo (R-Highland Falls), Michael Paduch (D-Middletown), and Dennis Simmons (R-C-Port Jervis) also approved the law. Bonacic said she would have supported the broader law as originally drafted.

"I'd like to see this built up," she said.

Hoovler said the law was warranted by the high number of heroin offenses in the county.

"We intend to use it judiciously," Hoovler said.

Sussman: Threat to 'due process'

Eachus said some members of his party had concerns about the "difficulty or ease" by which defendants could get their property back. Some cases can take months to more than a year to resolve, he said.

"Sometimes, exonerating somebody who is innocent can take some time," he said.

Hoovler defended the law by saying that property can be taken as evidence now.

A "phone is evidence," Hoovler said. "The clothes you're wearing could be evidence. We may take your car" or negotiate for the fair market value of the drugs.

Eachus was satisifed.
"I thank you for doing this," he said. "I have no problem doing this."

Local defense attorney Michael Sussman said the law would challenge “fundamental due process.” Forfeiture should not begin until after a conviction has been reached or the appeals process exhausted, he said.

“It’s absolutely improper,” he said. “You could have property confiscated even if you are not a defendant.”

Qualms about 'income-generating' law

Hoovler described the law as a deterrent and “a law enforcement tool to make the community safer.” He also said forfeiture laws have been found to be a “successful revenue tool for law enforcement so that taxpayer money doesn’t have to be used."

“I don’t want the taxpayers of Orange County paying for something the criminals should be paying for," said Hoovler.

However, the law explicitly states that seizures can’t be used to supplant “ordinary departmental budget costs including salaries of personnel.” Federal forfeiture law also restricts seizures from being used to fund the salaries of enforcement personnel.

Hoovler has called that part of the law “complicated." Sussman said using seizures to fund departments is “a bit slippery.”

Berkman said his party objects to the law as “an income-generating proposal.”

The law is backed by the Police Chiefs’ Association of Orange County and Orange County Sheriff Carl DuBois, who have cited the law's revenue-generating possibilities.

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