Asset Forfeiture

How to Fight Civil Forfeiture

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Institute for Justice

Attorney Scott Bullock heads up the Institute for Justice (IJ) initiative against civil forfeiture. In September, he told reason about IJ's plans to push back against the overuse of laws that allow unfair confiscation of property by law enforcement.

  1. Communication. Most people can't believe that in America you can lose property without being convicted of a crime. When people learn about civil forfeiture, a vast majority are opposed to it. We created a website (endforfeiture.com) that serves as a one-stop shop for anyone interested in finding out about this practice, and we published Policing for Profit, a study documenting the extent of forfeiture abuse at virtually all levels of government.
  2. Strategic litigation. We continue to file lawsuits that target the two fundamental problems that lie at the heart of civil forfeiture laws: the lack of protections for innocent property owners, and the perverse profit incentive that allows police and prosecutors to keep what they forfeit for their own use.
  3. Legislation. It is very difficult to change civil forfeiture laws legislatively due to the power of law enforcement lobbies. But it's not impossible. This year, Minnesota passed solid reforms. And two bills have been introduced in the House and Senate that would dramatically change how the federal government practices forfeiture.

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  2. Obama’s new AG loves asset forfeiture. I doubt too many journalists are going to jump on the story, even if it’s the perfect opportunity to do so.

  3. Bill Cassidy annihilating Mary Landrieu by 16 points in the polls for the runoff race for the Louisiana senate seat, who is at around a paltry 40%.

    I’ve even seen some reports that suggest he could end up winning by 20 points or more, which probably explains why the republicans have decided that they don’t need to spend much more down there on advertising.

    1. It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling and a big smile.

    2. I love how her own party threw her under the bus.

  4. “It is very difficult to change civil forfeiture laws legislatively due to the power of law enforcement lobbies. But it’s not impossible.”

    This is about as close as he comes to suggesting that electing one politician over the other is somehow the answer–and he isn’t really saying that at all.

    …which is awesome.

    1. This is about as close as he comes to suggesting that electing one politician over the other is somehow the answer

      “Better” only seems hard to you if you have swallowed the progressive idea of government running everybody’s life and fixing everybody’s problems.

      In reality, “better” is a pretty simple standard to meet for politicians: do less harm and pass less stupid legislation. And it isn’t that hard to vote for politicians that do less.

  5. I simply do not understand how civil forfeiture is constitutional.

    I understand that there are asshats who will twist the constitution to mean whatever they want, but the whole idea is so incredibly counter to the 5th Amendment I can’t see how any judge in their right mind would ever hold it up.

    1. It is not. Thats how.

      Oh yeah, and fuck you. I think that is how it works.

    2. Silly Paul. The job of a judge is to find excuses for unconstitutional legislation. In the case of asset forfeiture, it is the property that is being charged with a crime. The 5A doesn’t apply to property. Thus the practice is constitutional. See how easy it is?

      1. “No person shall… be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

        That seems pretty cut and dry. People are being deprived of their property without being charged with a crime, and they’re not getting that property back even after they’re cleared of suspicion, nor are they getting fair market value for it (I’d prefer the value at time of purchase, but I’m not holding my breath for that clause). Therefore, it’s a HUGE violation of Number 5.

        And as for the property being charged with a crime, I think that’s a viable case for the SCOTUS. It’s ludicrous, but sometimes you gotta get that shit in writing to keep ludicrous shit from happening.

    3. It’s not. In fact, it’s explicitly prohibited by the fifth amendment. The fact that it continues demonstrates that the courts have no interest in justice or the law.

      -jcr

      1. Yeah, it’s gonna have to take somebody that got their precious stuff taken and held captive by the police, to get a lawyer that’s willing to take their case all the way to SCOTUS if need be.

    4. The USSC determines what the Constitution means, and here’s what USSC Justice O.W. Holmes said about it:

      “The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience. The felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy, avowed or unconscious, even the prejudices which judges share with their fellow-men, have had a good deal more to do than the syllogism in determining the rules by which men should be governed.”

      Judges decide what they want to do first, and then craft the reasons for their decision.

      1. Pragmatism was all the rage in Holmes’ day, and this quote (among others) place him firmly in that pallid tradition. Not much has changed.

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  7. Most people can’t believe that in America you can lose property without being convicted of a crime.

    I’m skeptical of this claim. I’d guess that most people can’t believe that in America you can lose property without committing a crime. Most Americans probably don’t care about due process. And why should they? The average American will never have assets seized by the police, so the utilitarian argument for enforcing due process falls flat. I don’t think the public will be outraged until everyone has a friend who’s been the victim of asset forfeiture (without having committed a crime).

    1. I agree. Most slappy-assed “citizens” have absolutely no capacity for subjects like this. If it ain’t on their cell phone to be texted, or associated with the NFL, it gets zero attention.

      And those newly minted Democrats that are going to flood us from South and Central America? The Che Guevera?.Shining Path crowd won’t give a flip either. They are not exactly your freedom and liberty types.

    2. The average American will never have assets seized by the police,

      The average American will also not get raped, shot, get blown up by terrorists, swindled out of their savings, poisoned, killed in a nuclear accident, or have their child abducted. Yet, the average American is willing to spend thousands of dollars a year in extra taxes to guard against such improbable possibilities. In fact, most of what the US government does is to protect people against trumped up and imaginary risks.

      I don’t think the public will be outraged until everyone has a friend who’s been the victim of asset forfeiture (without having committed a crime).

      I think it only takes a bit of political smarts to get people concerned about this. And it’s a much more rational concern than what people actually worry about.

  8. Essentially the cops and prosecutors have a license to steal. Knowing the kinds of people they are I am confident that they will keep pushing the boundaries until they piss enough people off that this will have to end.

    If the goddamn worthless press were on this it wouldn’t have to come to that. If the goddamn worthless courts would do their job it wouldn’t have to come to that. Sadly both are useless and it will have to come from the populace demanding an end to this wildly unconstitutional theft.

    Also, from the Reason Foundation website on qualified immunity – “Officials with qualified immunity are only subject to suit if they violate a “clearly established right.”

    Is not due process a clearly established right? Why can’t we sue the individuals involved in asset forfeiture?

    1. What I’d really like to do with them is give them a gun with one bullet and a 15 minute head start, but I suppose suing them could work too.

    2. I’ve got a feeling that is gonna take a constitutional amendment – the “Nobody Above The Law” Amendment – to settle this shit. “No person shall be regarded as immune or exempt from due process of law, regardless of profession or position held under employment of Federal, State, or any other form of government” or words to that effect.

      And I’ve a feeling that only an Article V Convention is gonna get this to even see the light of day.

  9. The best way would be for everyone who is victimized by civil asset forfeiture to take up arms and reclaim their stolen property.

    1. They won’t even do that to reclaim their stolen rights.

  10. I’m not sure the title fits the article: so, how exactly do you fight civil forfeiture?

    Democracy: the process by which normal people have to mobilize and engage in politics, just to keep their shit from being stolen.

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