Jul 19, 2017
Civil asset forfeiture has been a key topic here at Liberty Blitzkrieg over the years for one very obvious reason. The practice has absolutely no place in any halfway humane and decent civilization. The fact that this barbaric, authoritarian practice somehow has legal protection in these United States says so much about the state of the nation and the level of thuggishness we’re willing to put up with as a people.
For new readers who aren’t familiar with the subject, here’s a quick refresher:
Asset forfeiture is a disputed practice that allows law enforcement officials to permanently take money and goods from individuals suspected of crime. There is little disagreement among lawmakers, authorities and criminal justice reformers that “no criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime.” But in many cases, neither a criminal conviction nor even a criminal charge is necessary — under forfeiture laws in most states and at the federal level, mere suspicion of wrongdoing is enough to allow police to seize items permanently.
Additionally, many states allow law enforcement agencies to keep cash that they seize, creating what critics characterize as a profit motive. The practice is widespread: In 2014, federal law enforcement officers took more property from citizens than burglars did. State and local authorities seized untold millions more.
Since 2007, the Drug Enforcement Administration alone has taken more than $3 billion in cash from people not charged with any crime, according to the Justice Department’s Inspector General.
The practice is ripe for abuse. In one case in 2016, Oklahoma police seized $53,000 owned by a Christian band, an orphanage and a church after stopping a man on a highway for a broken taillight. A few years earlier, a Michigan drug task force raided the home of a self-described “soccer mom,”suspecting she was not in compliance with the state’s medical marijuana law. They proceeded to take “every belonging” from the family, including tools, a bicycle and her daughter’s birthday money.
The main reason I haven’t been writing on the topic as much over the past couple of years it because it seemed the tide had turned on the issue, at least from the standpoint of the American public. The more we learned about it, the more horrified we became, and movements to reduce the practice have become widespread at the state and local level. While many of the new state laws are far from perfect, they’ve at least been moving in the right direction, as we saw recently in Connecticut.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed HB 7146 on Monday, which curbs the state’s civil forfeiture laws. Not only did the bill earn endorsements from the Yankee Institute for the Public Policy and the state chapter of the ACLU, HB 7146 even passed both the House and the Senate without a single no vote.
Under the new law, in order to permanently confiscate property with civil forfeiture, the property must be first seized in connection to either a lawful arrest or a lawful search that results in an arrest. If prosecutors do not secure a guilty verdict, a plea bargain or a dismissal from finishing a pretrial diversion program, the government must return the property to its rightful owner. With the stroke of a pen, Connecticut now becomes the 14th state to require a criminal conviction for most or all forfeiture cases.
Similar to his clownish campaign against cannabis, nothing seems to bother Jefferson Sessions more than uppity citizens deciding matters for themselves at the local level. Whenever he sees plebs making decisions on their own, his answer is to use the threat of federal force to get the rabble in line. Aren’t Republicans supposed to be in favor of States’ rights? Not Jeff Sessions.
As Reason explains:
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Justice Department will issue new directives to increase the federal govenment’s use of civil asset forfeiture, a controversial practice that allows law enforcement to seize property from suspected criminals without charging them with a crime.
The Justice Department plays a huge role in asset forfeiture through its Equitable Sharing Program, which allows state and local police to have their forfeiture cases “adopted” by the federal government. The feds take over the case, and the seized money is put into the equitable sharing pool. In return, the department gets up to 80 percent of those funds back. The equitable sharing program distributes hundreds of millions of dollars a year to police departments around the country.
Darpana Sheth, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm, called Sessions’ announcement “a disheartening setback in the fight to protect Americans’ private property rights” in a statement Monday.
“Ordinary Americans see that civil forfeiture is unconstitutional, and 24 states have taken steps to roll back civil forfeiture laws,” Sheth continued. “The Attorney General’s plan to increase forfeitures is jarringly out of step with those positive developments.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), a consistent Republican advocate for reforming asset forfeiture laws, said in a statement to Reason Monday: “As Justice Thomas has previously said, there are serious constitutional concerns regarding modern civil asset forfeiture practices. The Department has an obligation to consider due process constraints in crafting its civil asset forfeiture policies.”
Lee was referring to conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ notable dissent in an asset forfeiture case this June. Thomas wrote that forfeiture operations “frequently target the poor and other groups least able to defend their interests in forfeiture proceedings.”
Data on asset forfeiture backs up what Thomas says. A Reason investigation of more than 23,000 police seizures in Cook County, Illinois over the last five years showed that Chicago’s poor neighborhoods were hit hardest by asset forfeiture. A similar investigation of Mississippi court records showed that law enforcement recorded many big hauls of cash, but the records were also littered with petty and abusive seizures.
A 2014 Washington Post investigative series found that warrantless police seizures of cash through the equitable sharing program have boomed since 9/11, hauling in $2.5 billion. Also in 2014, for the first time ever, the U.S. government seized more property from Americans than burglars did.
More than twenty states have passed some form of asset forfeiture reform in recent years, but forfeiture opponents say the equitable sharing fund essentially allows local and state police to avoid those new laws by going through the federal government.
Although the details have yet to be released, Sessions’ directive appears likely to loosen the restrictions on “adoptions” of forfeiture cases by the federal government—an alarming prospect for opponents of asset forfeiture.
“Reversing the ban on adoptive seizures would revive one of the most notorious forms of forfeiture abuse,” Sheth said. “So-called ‘adoptive’ seizures allow state and local law enforcement to circumvent state-law limitations on civil forfeiture by seizing property and then transferring it to federal prosecutors for forfeiture under federal law. Bringing back adoptive seizures would create a road map to circumvent state-level forfeiture reforms.”
Americans understand that this goonish practice has no place in a free society, which is why the people have mobilized to dismantle or stifle the practice across many states. The fact that Jeff Sessions is actively plotting to suppress States’ rights tells you all you need to know about how the federal government views the citizenry. The writing is on the wall and the message is crystal clear. Communities and states need to aggressively mobilize to take back the political power we have let atrophy for far too long.
To conclude, it’s absolutely critical to read everything I wrote above within the context of my view that the U.S. empire is currently within the throes of what I believe to be an irreversible decline. This is why it’s so important to decentralize now, before total imperial collapse. If we wait, an overly centralized government ruling over disempowered, disconnected serfs will be what everyone turns to for all their “solutions” when the ship goes down. These solutions are likely to draconian and anti-freedom, so we need to plant the seeds of self-government right here, right now. We need to take charge and empower our local communities as much as possible before things get worse. If our response to imperial decline is to try to grasp onto its last remaining vestiges, the aftermath will be a hundred times worse. There are many ways to respond to adversity, and I hope we can choose the more conscious path.
Washington D.C. has become a clear threat to hundreds of millions of Americans who just want to lead a decent lives for themselves and their families. The only policies coming out of that cesspool have made things far worse for the political and economic well-being of the vast majority of us. The time for us to take our constitutional powers back and reinstate self-government is long overdue.