Imagine this scenario: Red and blue lights are flashing in your mirror. While talking to the cop, he discovers you have $8,000 cash on you. You try to explain you are on your way to buy a used car. He argues that’s not true. He’s convinced it’s for drugs. He says he won’t charge you with any crimes, as there is no evidence of wrongdoing, but he takes your money anyway.
Isn’t this outrageous? Yes. It is unlawful? No. Under Civil Asset Forfeiture laws, incidents like these are happening all over the country.
From the New York Daily News, reports of property confiscation have been going on for decades. All it takes is for one Sheriff, deputy, or police chief to abuse this law for monetary, or even personal gain for a whole county to suffer.
Civil Asset Forfeiture is a legal way for local, state and federal governments to steal private assets from innocent citizens. All law enforcement needs to do is “suspect” you of criminal activity, primarily accusing drug trafficking, and they can seize your assets.
But here’s the kicker. They don’t have to convict or even charge you with a crime before legally going after your possessions.
Fortunately, the vast majority of cops respect citizens and do not infringe on their rights. My home area of Hamilton County, Ohio, is actually doing it right. They are a post-forfeiture county only. In other words, they may seize assets at arrest, but they will not pursue permanently retaining those assets unless the suspect is convicted of a crime. Otherwise, the property is returned to the rightful owner.
As the wife of a cop, I rarely encourage limits on law enforcement. Their hands are tied enough as it is. Following Abraham Lincoln’s example, “I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.” Here, government and a few corrupt law enforcement agencies have gone very, very wrong.
Prosecutors know the majority of these cases are groundless and the burden of proof lies with them. Since most evidence is circumstantial at best in cases where a conviction was not obtained, asset prosecution would be a waste of time and money for the counties. Accept for the loophole they found in current Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws.
Instead of suing the individuals, they sue the cash or property. The owners then become a third party in the case. Since the property cannot defend itself, the burden falls on the owner to prove the property is not at fault. These cases are now time consuming and extremely costly for the defendant.
Most citizens end up forfeiting their asset rather than embarking in a case that may cost more than the property itself. On the other hand, some prosecutors have actually dropped criminal cases because of lack of evidence but pursued their case against the assets because they knew it was almost a sure win.
“Presumption of innocence” is just a happy fairy tale for those who use the excuse, “We know they are guilty, we just can’t prove it.”
One’s 5th Amendment rights are non-existent with these egregious laws.
“…nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;…”
Evidence has been found that these funds have been used for margarita machines, softball uniforms, and concert tickets, among other items. In the State of Ohio, $5 million was confiscated under forfeiture laws in 2015. This is more than was stolen by criminals. By that I mean criminals other than the politicians, lawyers and officers who enforce civil asset forfeiture.
FreedomWorks, partnering with organizations like the NAACP and the ACLU, are educating the public and fighting these laws. In Ohio, State troopers are neutral on anti-forfeiture legislation HB 347, which just passed the House and is now in the State Senate. The Fraternal order of Police still has not made a public statement. Unsurprising, prosecutors have been against it from the start. Some county, city and state officials are also fighting the new legislation, arguing they need the money. Apparently their need for your money trumps your right to your own property.
While local governments do all the work, the federal government never passes up the opportunity for free money. The federal government takes the first 20 percent before returning the remaining 80 percent to the state. The IRS even has its own forfeiture laws allowing it to seize funds from an individual’s bank account if that individual has made several large withdrawals under $10,000. The DOJ has finally corrected this procedure, denying the seizure of funds if no other criminal activity is present.
To find out more, visit FreedomWorks.org. Also, contact your local authorities for their practices in Civil Asset Forfeiture. If your state is not already designing legislation to combat the overt abuse of these laws, get involved with your State Representative and Senators to correct this unconstitutional overreach.
We still have power over the government. We must speak out and let them know their dictatorial reign is over.
But that’s just my 2 cents.