Civil Asset Forfeiture, Part 2

Asset forfeiture is wrong on numerous fronts:

The property of an individual is necessary to sustain his life and if acquired lawfully is his by right to use to support his life and his happiness.  To take someone’s lawfully acquired property is in fact taking away his life and his happiness. It is a violation of his rights.

It is only right to take away property that is not legally owned by a criminal because it was stolen or acquired unlawfully through trading in contraband.  We determine whether person is guilty of a crime by a legal process of charging and convicting him.  To take property of someone not convicted of a crime denies due process.

The taking of property far in excess of any real culpability in an alleged crime is cruel and unusual punishment.

Short filing times, seizure of assets that can be used in one’s defense, tricky rules that make it difficult to file a proper claim, and the extremely long time that assets are held after a claim is made are all deliberately designed to make asset recovery extremely difficult.  For the “few” innocent victims this is a massive denial of due process.

Such denial of due process is the reason that some, or likely many, of the “few” innocents give up and either make no claim or drop a claim.  This puts them supposedly in the category of the “many” that AG Sessions claims are the criminals who do not make claims to avoid talking about drug activity.

Frequently, perishable assets are stored improperly leading to the wanton destruction of the property. Even if one of the “few” innocents prevails in a hearing he cannot recover damages to his property or expenses incurred to win his case and may only receive pennies on the dollar for assets sold off by police at auction.

By rewarding police for getting large asset forfeitures, the few police who are themselves criminals have a powerful tool they can use with almost no check or risk.  They can fudge or shade or lie on their affidavit to point to the “few” innocent people who have unhidden money rather than at the criminal who has no money or has it well hidden.  They count on the “few” innocents to give up.  This encourages corruption.

Among all police, asset forfeiture fosters a disregard for innocence and for private property, whereas the proper role of government is to protect the innocent and their legally acquired property.

Funds from asset forfeiture encourage the expansion of police functions beyond what the voters in a jurisdiction consider necessary to protect them from crime.  There has been an explosion in SWAT teams, the acquisition of high powered weapons and the use of overwhelming force.  These may help with some crimes but increase the risk of innocents being the victims of police error or in some cases police malfeasance.

The lure of asset forfeiture has encouraged its application by police and prosecutors as a lever in all kinds of cases that previously were administrative sanctions.  Where a business may have gotten a fine of $1000 for failure to fill out a form it may be threatened with hundreds of thousands of dollars of asset forfeiture unless it institutes some new program desired by the government.

We should eliminate civil asset forfeiture as now constituted.  Asset forfeiture is proper only from a convicted criminal.  Just as we protect a few innocent people with due process of law that requires proof of criminality beyond a reasonable doubt, we should protect the “few” innocent people from the horrors of civil asset forfeiture by requiring that they first be convicted of a crime and then take only the assets shown to be acquired by that crime.

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