I don’t think I’ll ever stray from libertarianism. But if I ever get tempted by the siren song of statism, I’ll bolster my resistance by reminding myself of how people have been victimized by venal government.
- Andy Johnson
- Anthony Smelley
- The Hammond family
- Charlie Engle
- Tammy Cooper
- Nancy Black
- Russ Caswell
- Jacques Wajsfelner
- Jeff Councelller
- Eric Garner
- Martha Boneta
- Corey Statham
- James Slatic
- Carole Hinders
- Salvatore Culosi
- James Lieto
- the Sierra Pacific Company
- The Meitev family
I’m not joking. Bureaucrats can take your money (or property) simply by concocting a claim that it may have been associated with criminal activity.
They can grab your cash even though you haven’t been convicted. Heck, they don’t even need to arrest you.
Let’s look at some new examples of this odious practice. We’ll start with this video clip from a local news station in Sacramento, California.
And here’s another example from West Virginia, as reported by the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
A West Virginia State Police trooper issued Dimitrios Patlias a warning for failing to drive within his lane, just before seizing more than $10,000 in cash from him and his wife. …The trooper pulled them over, Smith said in an interview, …accusing them of smuggling cigarettes, to having drugs in the car, to gift card fraud. After searching the car, their persons, and Smith’s purse, the trooper let them go with a uniform warning citation. However, he also took the $10,478 in cash, the 78 “gift cards” in the car, and Patlias’ smartphone, according to a property disposition report. …Patlias and Smith wound up returning to their home in Egg Harbor City, New Jersey, stripped of all their cash but $2, without ever having been charged with a crime. …The seizure was part of a practice known as civil asset forfeiture, where law enforcement officers have the right to lay claim to property they argue was used in the commission of certain crimes. …the law seems to incentivize bad behavior from otherwise good police officers.“To me, this law, now that I’ve learned of it, it turns police officers into dishonest crooks,” she said. “I feel like I was in a movie.”
Yes, indeed, the cop was a crook in this instance. That’s because civil asset forfeiture creates a horrible incentive called “policing for profit.”
Efforts to curtail this disgusting tactic have not been successful in West Virginia.
In February, the state House Judiciary Committee considered a bill that would tie civil asset forfeiture to its respective criminal proceeding, i.e., if you’re acquitted criminally, the seized property cannot be forfeited. The bill died in committee.
But this story does have a happy ending. When this example of theft-by-government began to get publicity, the bureaucrats decided to return everything they stole.
After the Gazette-Mail reached out to the state police Monday with inquiries about the seizure, and after weeks of Smith calling police, the Jefferson County prosecuting attorney and local politicians, Smith said an officer returned her and Patlias’ possessions in full Thursday evening.
And the Utah Supreme Court also is taking a jaundiced look at civil asset forfeiture, even if only for procedural reasons.
The Utah Supreme Court has sided with a man pulled over in a traffic stop where police seized more than $500,000. In a unanimous ruling published Wednesday, the state’s top court ordered a lower court to reconsider who has jurisdiction over the money seized when Kyle Savely was stopped in a 2016 traffic stop. A drug dog alerted to the presence of narcotics, but none were found. Instead, a Utah Highway Patrol trooper found cash and seized it despite never charging Savely with any drug crime. …The libertarian-leaning think tank Libertas Institute, which jumped into the case, praised the ruling. They argued that state and federal agencies often split seized money. “The public is rightly outraged by laws that allow the government to take property from people not charged with a crime, as was the case here. It’s even worse when state laws designed to protect a property owner’s rights are not followed by state agencies, which is why we’re very pleased to see the state’s highest court unanimously holding them accountable,” Libertas Institute President Connor Boyack said in a statement.
What we really need, though, is for the Supreme Court to decide whether governments have the right to steal.
And that’s exactly what may soon happen, according to Jibran Khan of National Review.
Did you know that, in most states, the police can take your money and property without even charging you with a crime? Mundane actions such as having cash on hand have been cited as grounds for seizure, as a young man moving to Los Angeles to start a business discovered when his life savings were seized. He wasn’t detained, or charged with any crime — but he was left with nothing when the Drug Enforcement Agency took his cash. In any other situation, we would label this theft… Stories abound of abusive seizures justified under civil forfeiture. …A new Supreme Court case, however, might change that. …Justice Thomas has hoped for a civil-forfeiture case to come before the Supreme Court, so that this practice, which he views as incompatible with the due-process clause, can be analyzed on constitutional grounds. When it considers Timbs v. Indiana later this year, the Court will be able to do just that.
Kudos to Clarence Thomas for wanting to protect our rights.
If you need more evidence, Khan goes on the summarize why civil asset forfeiture is so reprehensible.
The system incentivizes policing for profit, rather than for public safety. The way that seized money is spent is just as disgraceful as the takings themselves. Departments have used forfeiture funds to buy Mercedes-Benzes, BMWs, Corvettes, Hawaiian vacations, and ski trips — just to list a few. They have also used these funds to buy military equipment, which has contributed to the dissolution of Sir Robert Peel’s concept of good policing that held the police should be well-integrated with the public rather than seeing itself as a military force. It’s no surprise that Brad Cates, who headed up asset forfeiture at the Department of Justice in the 1980s, describes it as “a free-floating slush fund.” The taking of property from citizens who are not charged with crimes to fund lavish lifestyles for government officials sounds like something out of the most dysfunctional Third World regimes. It’s heartening to see that the Supreme Court will hear the case. The practice is an affront to both constitutional and cultural norms, and has empowered law enforcement to engage in what would be considered criminality by any other measure.
By the way, Brad Cates is one of two former officials who were in charge of asset forfeiture who now reject the procedure.
Sadly, this is an issue where Trump and his team are definitely on the wrong side.
P.S. Defenders of civil asset forfeiture sometimes tell me that I shouldn’t get upset because many of the people who lose their property are criminals.
I’m willing to acknowledge that some of these folks may not be model citizens, but I make two basic points.
- Our Constitution has a presumption of innocence, so people shouldn’t be punished unless found guilty by a jury of their peers. In other words, I side with the Founding Fathers rather than Jeff Sessions.
- Something shouldn’t be against the law if there isn’t a victim. This is why asset forfeiture laws, just like drug laws and money-laundering laws, are misguided and should be repealed.