Today’s hair-raising topic is civil asset forfeiture. Perhaps you’ve never heard of this truly frightening law? And yet, according to the United States Justice Department:
“The Asset Forfeiture Program (AFP or the Program) touches every federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement agency in the country and the related cases are handled by all 94 U.S. Attorney’s Offices and the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Criminal Division.”
Let’s break this down, shall we? Sometimes it’s helpful to begin at the end: “forfeiture” means rights, property, or money that is surrendered or lost as a consequence of breaking a legal agreement (law or contract).
USLegal adds this precision:
“In criminal law, it may also refer to the government seizure of property connected to illegal activity, and has been a major weapon in the Federal government’s ‘war on drugs’ since the mid-eighties.”
An “asset” is, according to the Business Dictionary:
“Something that an entity has acquired or purchased, and that has money value.”
In other words, an asset is something you own. Understand that an “entity,” legally speaking, can be a person, business or other organization.
The term “civil” has several meanings. Most generally, it means “of or relating to citizens” – but, in law, it relates “to private rights and to remedies sought by action or suit distinct from criminal proceedings.”
When we put these three little words together, we now understand that the term you might never have heard of before – “civil asset forfeiture” – means giving up your personal possessions on demand of law enforcement if you are charged with (or, in some cases, merely suspected of) committing a crime.
Picture yourself driving down a highway and being pulled over for a broken tail-light. Or speeding. Or DWB (Driving While Black/Brown/Ethnic). After the usual unpleasantness, not only do you get a ticket, but you might be calling for a ride if the police seizure your car and its contents under this almost unknown law. Again, from the horse’s mouth: the U.S. Justice Department:
“The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 (P.L. 98-473), codified in 28 U.S.C. § 524(c), established the AFF as a special fund within the Treasury to receive the proceeds of forfeitures pursuant to any law enforced or administered by the Department.”
That’s right, since 1984 this piece of legislation permits the national Treasury (who also process IRS tax payments, by the by) to hold the stash amassed by every law enforcement officer or agent in the country.
How much money are we talking about here, you ask? 1985 revenues for the first year of this new way to oppress civilians came to $27 million. By 1992, that amount rose to $875 million. In 2014, The Washington Post revealed that revenue from asset forfeitures exceeded that from burglaries. We are talking about over 5 BILLION DOLLARS of property loss!
But wait, there’s more.
“If you add up all the property stolen in 2014, from burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and other means, you arrive at roughly $12.3 billion, according to the FBI.”
Wow. What is all this money being used for? Let’s return to the source, the U.S. DOJ:
“The law authorizes the Attorney General to use the Fund to finance expenses associated with the execution of asset forfeiture functions and, with specific limitations, certain general investigative costs.”
Goodness gracious, this program feeds upon itself. It was set up to fund itself. It is not legally obligated to benefit any other entity or initiative. It might be subject to criminal abuses on the part of law enforcement, the Takers.
The original purpose behind this draconian policy of legal property seizure (disguising it citizens’ forfeiture) was to fight the so-called War on Drugs. We know how successful that was – sarcasm intended – what with the CIA behind major drug running in the United States.
Yet the DOJ loves to brag about how much money the drug criminals are losing. Yeah, right. Haven’t we all noticed the shortage of illegal drugs across the nation? Unity Rehab maintains that all drug use – legal and illegal – is on the rise in the US.
In fact, as more and more people learn the horrible truth about civil asset forfeiture, especially that it can happen to you or anyone else, the light is dawning that the real losers here are innocent people who have their rightful property taken from them. Not only are civil rights being trampled: the underlying American legal premise of innocence-before-guilt has been kicked to the curb.
Need we say that civil asset forfeiture has led to corruption and flagrant misbehavior among law enforcement nation-wide?
The problem is that law enforcement personnel have become overly zealous in their efforts to take, take, take from just about anybody, criminal or otherwise.
Last July 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made headlines when he got rid of “an Obama administration directive that prevented local law enforcement from circumventing state restrictions on forfeiture of civil assets.”
As reported in The Atlantic:
“In 2015, Sessions’s predecessor Eric Holder issued a set of modest policy changes that scaled back equitable-sharing proceeds if they were obtained without warrants or criminal charges. Sessions rescinded those policies.”
Local police used a legal loophole called “adoption” to get around those laws by asking federal agencies like the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), to hear forfeiture cases before splitting the proceeds. Federal adoption led to the sudden rise of a multibillion-dollar government money machine.
The NBC News article pointed out that people are “losing cash, cars and homes without any proven link to illegal activity; police [are] taking cash in exchange for not locking suspects up; [in] a legal system that makes it hard for victims to get their possessions back.”
At the state level, the news is more favorable. The not-for-profit pro-reform Institute for Justice reports that about half of the U.S. states require legal authorities to secure criminal convictions before seizing property from suspects. Three states (North Carolina, New Mexico, and Nebraska) ban civil asset forfeiture completely.
Notwithstanding what half the United States want for their citizens, AG Sessions has made civil asset forfeiture easier to inflict on Us the People.
The current deplorable situation is best summed up in a New York Times article which quotes Ben Ruddell, a staff attorney for the Illinois ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union):
“There’s bipartisan consensus in states all over the country that forfeiture has gone too far and needs to be constrained. Now you have the attorney general of the United States saying, ‘We have to double down and do more of this.’ He’s completely swimming against the tide of current thinking.”
Ignorance may be bliss, but you need to spread the word about this uncivilized, yet perfectly legal national property seizure system – before you lose your assets!