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License Plate Tracking and Asset Forfeiture

Earlier this year, a Freedom of Information Request revealed a large scale license plate monitoring program undertaken by The Drug Enforcement Administration. The initiative employs new technology to essentially track drivers’ movements by positioning automatic license plate readers on police cars, road signs, and bridges. These high speed cameras photograph thousands of plates per minute, and with enough cameras in enough places, can basically track the movements of any vehicle as it travels from point A to B. The DEA contends that this is the natural evolution of crime fighting technology, but the American Civil Liberties Union is concerned about what this kind of surveillance means for privacy.

The ACLU argues that collecting this kind of data over time begins to paint a detailed picture of private citizens’ lives. They believe that it brings with it due process concerns as people could potentially be investigated for criminal activity simply because of the data collected about their driving patterns. Of even greater concern is the program’s potential to increase asset forfeiture.

Asset forfeiture refers to the state seizure of private assets that were the proceeds of, or used in furtherance of, federal crimes. The controversial Equitable Sharing Program allows law enforcement agencies to seize assets believed to be proceeds of illegal activity, and use them to fund state programs. These assets are seized without warrants, and many times during an interaction as simple as a traffic stop.

Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder has moved towards amending the asset forfeiture policy to be more in line with Constitutional due process standards. Basically, the government isn’t supposed to take a private citizen’s property without first affording them due process of law. Certainly, a mere traffic stop and the suspicion of a police officer does not meet this threshold level of process. The new asset forfeiture policy says that property can no longer be taken without evidence that a crime has occurred. Law enforcement can still seize items that pose a threat to public safety, such as firearms and explosives.

Importantly, these new asset forfeiture standards are for federal law enforcement agencies, meaning state and local police may have different procedures depending on their jurisdiction. Ohio citizens enjoy a fairly protective forfeiture law. Here, the government must prove property is related to a crime by clear and convincing evidence. This is a lower burden of proof than beyond a reasonable doubt, but still higher than the standard adopted by most other states, which is merely a preponderance of the evidence. Importantly, in Ohio, no proceeds of forfeiture go to law enforcement.

If your property has been wrongfully seized as part of an asset forfeiture, call Luftman, Heck, and Associates at to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Columbus defense attorney. We’re ready to fight for your rights.

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