Civil Asset Forfeiture

House Bill Introduced to Make it Harder for Feds to Take Your Stuff


Rep. Tim Walberg
Official portrait

A Republican congressman from Michigan has introduced a House version of legislation to reform the federal government's highly abused asset forfeiture regulations. It's not Justin Amash, as we might expect, but Tim Walberg, a strong religious and national security conservative who is also concerned about the abuse of federal authority. He couches his concerns in terms of the IRS abusing businesses as opposed to law enforcement officials snatching cash from people at traffic stops:

H.R. 5212 was introduced in direct response to several recent stories involving innocent property owners having their property seized by federal officials.  In Michigan, a longtime grocer, Terry Dehko, had his bank accounts seized by IRS because they suspected him of being a money launderer.  The charges were never filed but Mr. Dehko had to prove that his money was not used in a criminal enterprise.

"This legislation provides commonsense reforms to restore the balance of power away from the government and back to protecting individual rights and due process.  We cannot abide a system where citizens fear that law enforcement can seize, forfeit and profit from their property," Walberg stated.

Walberg's legislation has some differences from legislation recently introduced by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Scott Alexander Meiner at Americans for Forfeiture Reform makes some comparative notes.  Like Paul's Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act, Walberg's bill increases the threshold for attempting to seize property from the "preponderance of evidence" standard to the "clear and convincing evidence" standard that the property being seized was connected to a crime. However, Meiner notes, Walberg's bill does not attempt to eliminate the twisted incentives for government officials to try and seize property by shifting the assets gained from the Department of Justice to the Department of the Treasury. Arguably, that shift may well be more important than changing the threshold of proof, because of the significant leeway judges give law enforcement and federal officials to do whatever the heck they want. Judges usually haven't been a good check on police power in decades. At least removing the profit motive would have an impact.

Meiner provides some more analysis of Walberg's bill here. And in about half an hour Walberg will be joining former Reason Editor (and current Washington Post blogger) Radley Balko and Scott Bullock, senior attorney for the Institute of Justice, at the Heritage Foundation for a discussion about asset forfeiture reform.

NEXT: Is Common Core on the Ropes?

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  1. national security conservative who is also concerned about the abuse of federal authority

    Well, that’s gonna be a problem since security theater is inherently linked to abuse of federal authority.

    1. One abuse at a time. At this point, I would settle for anything getting better.

  2. The guy is a Republican. Don’t fall for this trick to distract you from his agenda for a theocratic government that will stop you having fun with your weewee.

    1. He’s also trying to distract you from the war on womynz. And teh racisms.

      1. Forgot about those; thank you.

    2. Their brainwashing you by adopting sane, reasonable policies! They’ll spring the crazy on you once you’re hooked!

  3. Timmy Tim and the Funky Bunch?

  4. Submitting a bill is great and all, but writing it is one thing – let’s see how far it gets. And how dedicated Mr. Walberg is with seeing it through, and how many other Republicans are willing to get on board.

  5. Judges usually haven’t been a good check on police power in decades.

    No shit.

  6. – Home ownership @ 20 year low

    – 1/3 of Americans have debt in collection

    – Labor force participation rate @ mid-1970s level-low

    Food Stamps now used by record-high percent of the population

    – Costs of housing, education, and medical care costs continue grow @ multiples of the rate of personal income growth


    And Palin’s Buttplug thinks ‘the economy’ is good because ‘stock market up!’

    at least its Tuesday

    1. Its recovery summer, you RACIST.

  7. And, of course, we can only assume the FREEDOM IS SLAVERY establishmentarians will gut it in committee becuz TOUGH ON CRIMEZ!

    1. It’s sad that the “mainstream” “establishment” somehow thinks that screwing property owners using civil asset forfeiture is a moderate, popular, position.

      I think they don’t realize how much the middle has moved away from the law-and-order, war on drugs days of the 80s.

      There isn’t anyone that it appeals to anymore, really, except maybe the police unions and crazy old ladies.

      1. That is because they have no idea how these things work in practice. They live in their bubble and think the cops only use these things on drug gangs and arch criminals. They have no idea how badly they are abused. So when the establishment sees someone who wants to stop this they think “that guy just wants to help criminals”.

        The middle has only begun to move on this issue because the abuse has gotten so bad they now understand it will effect them. The establishment will never move because it will never affect them, that is unless they start losing elections over it.

      2. I think they don’t realize how much the middle has moved away from the law-and-order, war on drugs days of the 80s.

        Have they? They certainly don’t vote like they’ve moved much.

        1. They have. I wouldn’t say they have moved so much as law and order has moved away from them. Most people are very pro law and order. But they are also fair minded. And the cops and DAs have gotten so out of control no fair minded person can defend them anymore.

          1. Well, there also is a lot less paranoia about drugs.

            The decline in support for the drug war necessarily means people are taking a second look at many over-zealous drug-war related policies.

  8. Stop with the slander – FEMINISTS ARE HOT!!

    Oh, how i had to resist commenting, there “… women in general still reported to be hopelessly shallow and superficial, however…”

    Like i want *that* in my facebook trail.

    1. Sandra Fluke is beautiful and my handsomeness is the sum of Cary Grant’s and George Clooney’s plus 80% of Errol Flynn’s.

      1. It is all about your level of competition. When your peers are Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Hillary Clinton, and the chicks at Jezebelle, you can look like Fluke or Marcotte and consider yourself queen bee for the day.

    2. They’re so caught up in appearances that they go out of their way to pass off average women from their team as attractive. It’s a compulsion.

      A better response would have been: “if people think the only value in a woman derives from their looks then I want nothing to do with them.”

      That I could respect. But passing a woman off with the jaw of a Scooby Doo villain and the body of a bag of potatoes as “hot” just shows their desperate need to feel “pretty”.

      1. The constant need to sell every high profile leftist female as “glamorous” and another Jacki Kennedy is just bizarre. The right in contrast actually has attractive female politicians and never talks directly about it and certainly never pretends someone like Libby Dole or Laura Bush is some raving beauty. The left in contrast tells the world with a straight face that Michelle Obama is just as glamorous and attractive as Carla Bruni.

        1. The day they claim Debbie Wasserman-Shithead is pretty is the day I firebomb the DNC.


        2. The left in contrast tells the world with a straight face that Michelle Obama is just as glamorous and attractive as Carla Bruni.

          Well, yeah. To do otherwise is racist. Duh.

      2. “””if people think the only value in a woman derives from their looks then I want nothing to do with them.”””

        For the record, i just (sort of) stole that and now I do have an unfortunate snipe in my facebook trail to haunt me forever.

  9. Walberg’s bill increases the threshold for attempting to seize property from the “preponderance of evidence” standard to the “clear and convincing evidence” standard that the property being seized was connected to a crime.

    Heaven forbid,one would actually have to be convicted of a crime before their property was stolen from them.

    Due process is DEAD!

  10. In my state all fines and forfeitures go to the Secretary of State. The cops get nuthin. And it works.

    1. And to think the only down side is that you have to live in Maine…

      1. It’s not that bad. Well, actually it is.

        1. The fishin’s good up there, though.

          1. Except you’ve got to check the regs very carefully. You can do fly fishing only for these three miles, then live bait for the next hundred yards, then it’s lures only for the next six inches, then another mile of flies only. The wardens are fucking everywhere, and they’ll take your vehicle if you’re using bait in a fly only zone. I like to fish, but it’s just not worth the trouble.

            1. Bang on with the absurd complexity of the fishing laws, but, unless you’re notorious in his district, the warden isn’t going to take your vehicle.

              Seriously, out-of-staters, come to Maine for the fishing, and spend lots of money.

  11. Civil forfeiture is one of the most blatantly unconstitutional activities that the Supreme Court has ever sanctioned. It’s an absolute violation of due process, among other things.

    Still appalled at the court for not striking the practice down, which it obviously should’ve done. Even from a practical perspective, it’s a practice that obviously corrupts the government entity practicing it.

    1. If you haven’t been following the Conrad Black case, look it up. His appeal is I think going before the SCOTUS. His contention is that the government used the asset forfeiture laws to prevent him from hiring counsel and force him to rely on the federal public defender. Then DOJ filed an enormously and needlessly complex indictment against him knowing that the federal public defender would be unable to give him a proper defense and thus depriving him of due process.

      His case should scare the shit out of anyone. He was charged with violated enormously complex securities laws. The DOJ knew they couldn’t prove the case if he had a decent defense. So they used forfeiture laws to ensure he was unable to hire a law firm capable of providing him one. I think the Federal public defenders do a lot of great work. But they are not qualified to defend a complex securities fraud case.

      1. His contention is that the government used the asset forfeiture laws to prevent him from hiring counsel and force him to rely on the federal public defender.

        That’s standard procedure. Especially in drug cases. They take everything the person owns, claiming it came from illegal drug profits, and then the person is stuck with a public pretender. At that point all they can do is take a plea bargain.

        1. But it is even worse in Black’s case. Public defenders, since they do it all of the time, really do know how to defend drug cases. They have no idea how to defend securities cases. There are maybe 20 law firms in America competent enough to try a really complex securities fraud case and DOJ used asset forfeiture to deny Black the ability to hire one.

          And of course they brag about how asset forfeiture keeps the bad guys from hiring attorneys, because making the government prove its case is just another form of criminal activity, you know.

          1. I get that they don’t want drug lords to lawyer up or whatever, but the problem with the whole theory is that the accused is presumed innocent. That’s not just some technicality, that’s the whole shebang. With that presumption, I’m not sure how it’s legal to take away money from someone who isn’t convicted of anything.

            1. The other part of the shebang is that even guilty people are entitled to a competent defense. They think just because they view this guy as being guilty, it is okay to deprive him of a competent defense.

            2. I understand the need for asset forfeiture sometimes. If I am not entitled to the money, then I shouldn’t be spending it. But, I am always entitled to an attorney. Even when they seize money, unless I stole it and and it rightfully belongs to someone else, I still should be able to use it to hire an attorney to defend me.

              1. I understand the need for asset forfeiture sometimes

                So do I. The day after the person has been convicted, the state should be able to determine what assets directly came as a result of the criminal activities.

                Until then, the person remains innocent in the eyes of the law and should not be deprived of their property since it has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that that property was obtained illegally.

                1. No sloopy. What if I stole all of your money? Should I be out spending it while I am on trial? No. IN cases where there is legitimate question over whose money it is, I am fine with pre conviction asset forfeiture, though I would keep it in escrow until the end of the trial.

                  1. I’d agree if the victim sued for compensation. Then it should go,into,escrow,until the civil case is resolved.

                    I was talking about a criminal case where the “victim” is the state itself. Like,when they seize the house and car of an alleged small-time pot seller. Or,the securities fraud case you listed.

                    1. In other words, I was speaking in absolutes and was wrong. I,should have made clear,I,was,referring to,crime,where the victim is the state.

  12. This would be awesome if it passed. Civil asset forfeiture reform has been a staple of libertarian advocacy for decades. It’s one oft he most unjust and corrupting aspects of the war on drugs.

    1. It’s a license to steal and nothing less. You have to wonder how often they’ve seized property from someone who otherwise is innocent or, at least, not charged or convicted.

      1. Yes. And this is only half the license. The other thing that needs to be done is the feds should make any state that doesn’t adopt this standard ineligible for law enforcement grants.

    2. Ten bucks says this gets out of the House and Harry Reid never sets it for a vote in the Senate. This bill exposes the incredible hypocrisy of the Progs. No way no how do they want it to pass. And even if the Republicans take the Senate this fall and it later does get out of Congress, the Chocolate Nixon will veto it or sign it with a signing statement instructing Eric Holder to ignore it.

      1. Meh. The law only impacts federal,prosecutions when we all know the real problem is local and state asset forfeiture.

        For every case of the Feds overstepping their authority in an asset forfeiture case I’d be willing to bet there are a thousand state forfeiture cases where the amounts aren’t big enough for the people to even hire a lawyer to try and get it back or the person whose property was taken has a legal status that allows for the theft to go unquestioned.

        1. You are right, it is not a big deal. But that won’t keep the Progs from not wanting to do it.

          1. We can only hope so, as this is an issue the libertarian wing of the right can use to get minority voters to their side.

            I’d be willing to bet the % of minorities that have had property stolen from them by the state is much higher than their % of the entire population.

        2. But many states will follow if the federal government changes it’s policies.

          1. I agree, but I’m afraid the ratchet only works one way.

      2. They could attach it to sentencing reform, and it would pass.

  13. Sugar Free call your office.

    The Dispute Between Radical Feminism and Transgenderism…..04/woman-2

  14. Still appalled at the court for not striking the practice down, which it obviously should’ve done.

    I have this crazy fantasy in which the Supremos render a series of judgements which basically say, “Fuck precedent. That was a stupid and flagrantly unconstitutional decision, made by idiots. We hereby denounce and rescind it, and offer our most sincere and humble apologies to every American, on behalf of this institution.”


    *struggles desperately to get free from strait jacket*

    1. You need some new justices to get that. One of the big advantages of a President Paul, of course, is that we might see a libertarian or two nominated.

      1. We should be selling that idea to civil libertarian liberals.

      2. Team Status quo would do everything in their power to prevent Paul from putting anybody on the court that was any more libertarian that Thomas. That’s as far as the right is willing to go.

        1. As for,the left, they’d keep their justices all Terry Schiavo’d up and wheel them out every session to prevent Paul from replacing them.

          1. That’s why he needs two terms. And, of course, there are other federal courts that need judges.

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