Civil Asset Forfeiture – Ruining Lives, While Failing To Stop Crime

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Yesterday, President Trump met with the National Sheriff’s Association at the White House.  Like so many Trump comments, this one took a strange turn when Trump (jokingly or not) threatened to “destroy the career” of a Texas state Senator:

During the meeting, Rockwall County, Texas, Sheriff Harold Eavenson told President Trump about a piece of asset forfeiture legislation he believes would aid Mexican drug cartels…here’s the full conversation:

Eavenson:  “There’s a state senator in Texas that was talking about legislation to require conviction before we could receive that forfeiture money.”

Trump:  “Do you believe that?”

Eavenson:  “And I told him that the cartel would build a monument to him in Mexico if he could get that legislation passed.”

Trump:  “Who is that state senator? I want to hear his name. We’ll destroy his career…”

Though the major point of conversation was about Trump’s threat to a state legislator, the bigger story should be the implicit support Trump gave to civil asset forfeiture, whether he realized it or not.  And if you are not aware what civil asset forfeiture is, it is (surprisingly) something that is agreed by both sides of the aisle to be unjust and unconstitutional, and rightfully so.

Civil asset forfeiture is defined by Wikipedia as “a controversial legal process in which law enforcement officers take assets from persons suspected of involvement with crime or illegal activity without necessarily charging the owners with wrongdoing.”  The practice is commonplace in the war on drugs, but it can be extended to almost anything.

What it means is that the government can essentially seize any of your assets it can find (be it in a bank account, or cash/gold/whatever you have in a safe or under the mattress), label them a part of a “criminal investigation,” and keep them indefinitely, without sufficient due process for the citizen to challenge the seizures, and whether you are ultimately charged with a crime or not.

Martin Armstrong of Armstrong Economics explains how police have every reason to seize assets, largely because these civil asset forfeitures are literally funding police departments:

Between 1989 and 2010, U.S. attorneys seized an estimated $12.6 billion in asset forfeiture cases. The growth rate during that time averaged +19.4% annually. In 2010 alone, the value of assets seized grew by +52.8% from 2009 and was six times greater than the total for 1989. Then by 2014, that number had ballooned to roughly $4.5 billion for the year, making this 35% of the entire number of assets collected from 1989 to 2010 in a single year. According to the FBI, the total amount of goods stolen by criminals in 2014 burglary offenses suffered an estimated $3.9 billion in property losses. This means that the police are now taking more assets than the criminals.

The police have been violating the laws to confiscate assets all over the country. A scathing report on California warns of pervasive abuse by police to rob the people without proving that any crime occurred. Even Eric Holder came out in January suggesting reform because of the widespread abuse of the civil asset forfeiture laws by police.

Bloomberg News has reported now that Stop-and-Seize authority is turning the Police Into Self-Funding Gangs. They are simply confiscating money all under the abuse of this civil asset forfeiture where they do not have to prove you did anything. Prosecutors are now instructing police on how to confiscate money within the grey area of the law.

A class action lawsuit was filed against Washington DC where police were robbing people for as little as having $100 in their pocket.  This is getting really out of hand and it has indeed converted police into legal criminals or “gangs” as Bloomberg News calls them.

And Mike Krieger of Liberty Blitzkreig even cites the Huffington Post, of all places, which detailed the case of two bakers who did not commit any crime, but had their assets (and lives) ruined by the IRS, because they were able to legally seize the business’s assets by just believing that they may have been engaging in criminal activity, with absolutely no evidence to support their claim:

But the IRS refused to believe Vocatura’s Bakery was operating on the up and up. Agents said the business raised red flags because of a series of cash deposits in sums under $10,000, the amount at which banks are required to report transactions to the federal government. They said this behavior was consistent with a crime known as structuring, which the IRS defines as making calculated financial transactions in order to skirt reporting requirements. The agents had no evidence of other wrongdoing, but thanks to a controversial law enforcement tool known as civil asset forfeiture, they didn’t need any to seize every penny in the Vocaturas’ bank account: $68,382.22.

Under the practice of civil forfeiture, authorities can move to permanently take property they suspect of being linked to criminal activity, without obtaining a conviction — and, in cases like the Vocaturas’, without even charging the owner with a crime.

For the past three years, the brothers have been fighting to get their money back, maintaining they’d done nothing wrong. The IRS has responded by subjecting David, 53, and his brother Larry, 69, to a series of increasingly aggressive legal maneuvers — including threats of significant prison time and additional fines — in an attempt to strong-arm them into permanently forfeiting their assets.

Hours after the suit was filed, the IRS said it would finally give the Vocaturas their money back. But the prosecutor didn’t drop the case. Instead, he now plans to mount an expansive investigation into the bakery’s finances, looking for a reason to bring criminal charges against the brothers.

It was just the latest twist in a protracted legal battle that has called into question some of the government’s favorite — and most problematic —methods of taking people’s money.

The practice is just as bad as it sounds – with the original intent being to stop big time drug dealers from recouping their assets, the practice has devolved into police and agencies of all types funding their departments by stealing the assets of civilians, whether they were obtained criminally or not.  This is also not a partisan trend, and as Michael Armstrong indicated above, the practice has been steadily increasing, across all administrations, since it was first implemented in the early 1980s.  Mike Krieger details the real problem with civil asset forfeiture below:

Civil asset forfeiture is a civil rights issue, and it should be seen as such by everyone. Just because it targets the entire population as opposed to a specific race, gender or sexual orientation doesn’t make it less important.

The problem with opposition in America today is that people aren’t seeing modern battle lines clearly. The greatest friction and abuse occurring in these United States today comes from the corporate-fascist state’s attack against average citizens. It doesn’t matter what color or gender you are. If you are weak, poor and vulnerable you are ripe for the picking. Until people see the battle lines clearly, it will be very difficult to achieve real change. Most people are divided and conquered along their superficial little tribal affiliations, and they completely miss the bigger picture to the peril of society. Which is why women will support Hillary just because she’s a woman, not caring in the least that she is a compromised, corrupt oligarch stooge.

All in the same, this makes Trump’s support of the policy quite disturbing.  Mother Jones, of all places, sums up what it all means, and whether or not Trump actually supports the policy (or even realized the significance of it):

My guess is that he has no idea what civil asset forfeiture is and has no real opinion about it. If, say, Trump had been in a meeting with a few senators, and Bob Goodlatte had remarked that “police can seize your money even if you weren’t convicted of a crime,” Trump probably would have reflexively answered, “Can you believe that?” Instead, a sheriff said it was a bad thing related to Mexicans, so Trump automatically agreed with him. That means it’s now official Trump administration policy.

Obviously, the Sheriffs who met with Trump support the policy – it helps fund their departments.  Perhaps Trump was merely supporting lawmen and trying to unify everyone behind his stated policy of “law and order” by agreeing with them in words, and doing something different in practice.  Surely, we would all like to believe that Trump is prepared to concede that every citizen is innocent until proven guilty, and should have recourse to challenge the legality of any seizure of personal assets.

However, I’m not naive enough to think that is a certainty.  Trump very well could have realized exactly what he was doing and the policy he was supporting, and the ramifications behind his support.  He could actually believe the practice helps stop crime, and be ready to willingly disregard the rights of citizens to do so.  It is an extremely dangerous position to take; one that the Trump administration should clarify as soon as possible.

The average American citizen ends up being the big loser in the ongoing saga of oppressive conduct by the authorities, as the practice is unlikely to end without intervention via legislation and/or executive action.   So, while it would be nice if the media would ask the Trump administration for some clarity on their policy regarding civil asset forfeiture, they seem too preoccupied with asking Trump if he really wants to end a state Senator’s career, in their ongoing quest to boost their own ratings.

It would be funny, if it weren’t so sad.