Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced a re-invigoration of the Civil Asset Forfeiture program, which basically allows police to seize money and valuable property from citizens who are suspected of acquiring those assets through criminal activity, without charging the suspects with a crime. Ostensibly aimed at criminal enterprises like drug cartels and fraudulent artifices, Civil Asset Forfeiture has left many horror stories in its wake. Here’s more detail as written by Donald Mitchell for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE.org):
“Because America’s Founding Fathers properly wanted to protect citizens from government abuse, the Constitution has several provisions (presumption of innocence, ban on warrantless searches, right to jury trial, 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination, and other due process legal protections) to protect our liberties.
So one can only imagine how Jefferson, Madison, Mason, et al, must be rolling in their graves as they contemplatethe disgusting practice of civil asset forfeiture, which basically allows agents of the government in the modern era to steal property from people who have not been convicted of any crime.”
From our CSPOA Statement of Positions:
Asset Forfeiture Programs These are state and federal programs. According to the FBI,
The Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture Program encompasses the seizure and forfeiture of assets that represent the proceeds of, or were used to facilitate federal crimes. The primary mission of the Program is to employ asset forfeiture powers in a manner that enhances public safety and security. This is accomplished by removing the proceeds of crime and other assets relied upon by criminals and their associates to perpetuate their criminal activity against our society. Asset forfeiture has the power to disrupt or dismantle criminal organizations that would continue to function if we only convicted and incarcerated specific individuals. ~Source: http://www.justice.gov/afp~
The problem, as it is explained by the Institute for Justice, is that
Every year, police and prosecutors across the United States take hundreds of millions of dollars in cash, cars, homes and other property—regardless of the owners’ guilt or innocence. Under civil forfeiture laws, the government can seize this property on the mere suspicion that it is connected to criminal activity. No charges or convictions are required. And once property is seized, owners must navigate a confusing, complex and often expensive legal process to try to win it back. Worst of all, most civil forfeiture laws give law enforcement agencies a powerful incentive to take property: a cut, or even all, of forfeiture proceeds….
…Forfeited cash and proceeds from the sale of forfeited property generate revenue for the government—and provide an important measure of law enforcement’s forfeiture activity.
- In 1986, the Department of Justice’s Assets Forfeiture Fund took in $93.7 million in revenue from federal forfeitures. By 2014, annual deposits had reached $4.5 billion—a 4,667 percent increase.
- The forfeiture funds of the DOJ and Treasury Department together took in nearly $29 billion from 2001 to 2014, and combined annual revenue grew 1,000 percent over the period.
- Total annual forfeiture revenue across 14 states more than doubled from 2002 to 2013. Those 14 states were the only states for which the Institute for Justice could obtain forfeiture revenues for an extended period.
- Civil forfeiture laws pose one of the greatest threats to property rights in the nation today. They encourage law enforcement to favor the pursuit of property over the pursuit of justice, and they typically give the innocent little recourse for recovering seized property. And without meaningful transparency, law enforcement faces little public accountability for its forfeiture activity or expenditures from forfeiture funds.
- ~Source: http://ij.org/report/policing-for-profit/executive-summary/
Police should be required to charge a citizen of a crime, and obtain a conviction prior to seizing any private property. Several states have passed laws to curb the many abuses of this well-intentioned yet mal-administered law, which is unconstitutional. We urge everyone to contact the Justice Department and object to this bad idea.