Elliott Ozment testifies for Civil Rights Commission, calls for changes to Tennessee’s ‘civil forfeiture’ laws

On Monday, July 24, Ozment Law founder and managing attorney Elliott Ozment gave testimony to the Tennessee representatives of the United States Civil Rights Commission concerning Tennessee’s use of “civil asset forfeiture,” a little-known program that allows police and law enforcement to take a person’s property or cash — even without charging the person with a criminal offense.

And in Ozment’s testimony, he described how immigrants and noncitizens are especially vulnerable to civil asset forfeiture by law enforcement, since immigrants often fit what police consider “drug trafficker profiles.” Those “profiles” are prone to being based on race or other impermissible factors and are often arbitrary, such as the type of vehicle or the location where it is registered.

Plus, many noncitizens are unable to get bank accounts, and many employers of noncitizens prefer to pay their employees in cash. Carrying unusually large quantities of cash is one of the main “profiles” that law enforcement uses to determine that the driver is involved in some kind of illegal activity. Similarly, legitimate, non-drug-related temporary or seasonal jobs favored by immigrants often have the same travel patterns as what the police consider “trafficking profiles.”

Thus, many immigrants are disproportionately affected by civil asset forfeiture and Tennessee’s loose regulations of the practice.

Most of these “profiles” would never stand up in court, but many do not know they can fight their cases.

For a person to get their money back, they must go through a grueling and difficult legal process, which is often beyond the means or ability of Tennessee’s immigrant and refugee communities.

Even if the police do not have enough evidence to arrest the person, under current law, they may still take their property — leaving it up to the immgirant to know how to fight for their property rights.

Ozment encourages Tennessee’s immigrants to fight if the police have taken their property. Contact a qualified attorney to learn more.

Ozment Law has a long history of standing up for immigrants’ civil rights, in and out of court.

From FOX 17 News:

Officers are legally allowed to seize money and property believed to be involving in the drug trade even if no charges are filed.

Nashville Attorney Elliott Ozment believes too many agencies are abusing the process for their benefit.

“It is legalized theft,” Ozment said. “What happens to that money is it goes into a special kitty that pays their salaries and enables them to hire their friends.”

Ozment said his immigrant clients are especially vulnerable because they keep their money in cash. The committee is gathering information to determine if the laws are unfairly targeting other groups as well.

“There’s concern about any civil rights implications for communities of color; low income, low asset communities that don’t have the wherewithal to challenge the taking of their property,” said Committee chair Diane Di Ianni.


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