So far President Trump has done pretty well. His executive orders have kept within the scope of his office. Of course some have complained about this, that’s to be expected. I’ve discussed the travel ban order at length. Anyone who thinks that it’s a Muslim ban or anything new simply haven’t read it. But, when Trump does support something wrong, I will also call him out on that too. My desire is be consistent in criticizing government overreach. One of the greatest examples of this, one that I think violates the constitution, was recently given supportive comments by Trump. I phrase it that way because a couple things are clear, first, Trump’s words were most likely just words given to support a group that he wanted to get in with. I say that because of reason two which is, there is evidence that Trump doesn’t actually know what civil asset forfeiture is.
Before you get too excited about how stupid Trump is for not knowing that you should realize that most people don’t know or if they’ve heard of it don’t fully understand it. Generally, if you aren’t in law enforcement or if you haven’t been exposed to it through a libertarianism you haven’t heard that term. You may have heard it mentioned a news story but usually the name isn’t mentioned. Usually a story will say something like, “police confiscated x-property and x-amount of dollars after arresting drug king pin so and so”. It goes back to the late 1700’s and was used then much as now only then to take the ships and cargo of pirates and smugglers who violated customs and other laws. It was expanded in the 1970’s to cover money from drugs and again later to include the ability to take real estate.
The idea is sound in theory: a criminal should not be allowed to benefit from his criminal activity so the ill gotten gains of that activity is confiscated from them. The government, local and federal, are able to auction off items and “divie up” the cash. They then use this cash to pay for police officer salaries and equipment. To the public it sounds like a great thing. Bad guys don’t prosper and tax payers pay less for law enforcement.
Officers have to prove that the property in question was purchased with money from the criminal activity, usually drug sales or were used in the commission of the crime. For example a boat might be used to transport drugs, or a car, and then those vehicles can be confiscated, sold, and the money used to support law enforcement efforts.
I think you can see why this is a nice idea and why so many people support it.
Where it goes wrong
I think even the casual observer can begin to see where this could all go wrong. First off is the fact that when governments can pad their budgets with forfeiture items (for some cities ranging in the millions of dollars) they will be likely to support and work towards making sure property can be confiscated. Take the imaginary boat I mention above. All an officer has to do is arrange a drug buy with the criminal on that boat, or if they find out the person has a bit real estate or a second home, let’s meet up there. They do the deal, arrest the suspect, and take the property that may have had no other ties to the criminal activity than the ties the officers just created. This isn’t just a hypothetical, we know it happens.
The other place that it goes wrong, and this is where I have the greatest problem with asset forfeiture, is that the property is often confiscated before the person is found guilty of any crime. That’s why the word “civil” is in the term civil asset forfeiture. Meaning the forfeiture isn’t criminal, it’s civil, meaning they don’t have to find you guilty using the higher standard of criminal due process.
We don’t use the word “wicked” very often in modern society. To call something evil or wicked is considered an unacceptable form of hyperbole. But I believe in calling a spade a spade as it were. Whomever came up with the idea of skirting our criminal constitutional protections using the civil court system is a wicked man. You see, it takes a special kind of swarminess to know what the law is, to be educated in it, to know what the protections are and what they are meant to accomplish then devise a way around them.
It’s like the man who makes a deal with the Devil thinking he’s going to get everything he wants. Give me your soul, the Devil says, and I will give you anything you wish for. I wish for all the money in the world! It’s yours! Then the man gets hit by a bus. That’s how the Devil works. He makes a contract, in the most technical sense he keeps that contract but somehow the other party gets thrown under the bus.
Civil assess forfeiture throws the constitutional protections we have under the bus.
Since they are civil matters the participants get little in the way of legal protections and the burden of proof is a preponderance of the evidence not beyond a reasonable doubt, a much easier standard to meet.
Imagine you are a business owner and the government seizes your cash. Sure, you can go to court to try and get it back, but how are you going to pay for that? I mean, the government has your cash after all and yet you’re expected to be able to pay for a defense? And there have been cases where the government auctions the property off then it’s too late to ever get it back.
It’s not just the bad guys
Then there’s more. The laws cover people who aren’t bad guys. They aren’t drug dealers. They are shop owners.
Take the case of Eh Wah who was stopped while driving in Oklahoma. The County Sheriff’s Department seized more than $53,000 from his car. Part of this money was a collection for an Thai Orphanage. It was a normal stop for a minor traffic violation. They searched the car and found the cash. They didn’t find evidence of a crime. They seized the cash.
There are many other cases of innocent people being treated like criminals and having their hard earned and long saved property taken. You can learn about more of them online if you are interested. But be warned, it’s likely to make you mad as you read.
This isn’t a matter of bad cops
It seems popular to blame the police for any problem people have with the law. This is somewhat understandable but ignorant. Understandable because the police are the face of the law. The police in the case of Wah were actually doing good police work. Their job being to investigate and enforce the law. While corruption does exist among the ranks of the police they aren’t the problem. Police only have the power the law gives them. If you feel they have too much power then it’s easy enough to reduce it. They aren’t policing for profit as some would accuse. They aren’t lining their own pockets with the cash and they don’t get a bonus. The money goes to government who is always seeking ways to get more and more of it. Money is power. They love power.
A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have. – Thomas Jefferson
I say it doesn’t matter if the law helps. It’s not worth it. They take the goods ahead of time because they fear the criminals will dispose of it or hide it during trial and they will never get their hands on it. I’m of a mind that the bad guys will get theirs in the end but even if they don’t that’s a price worth paying to protect the innocent and maintain inviolate the rights of men.
Trump, I think, is just falling into the trap of ignorance concerning this law. Take from the bad guys! How could a man like Trump not support that? That’s in keeping with his temperament to be sure. I think that if he did understand that he would support either a change in the law or an abolishing of the law.
The law keepers aren’t the problem, the law makers are. It’s beyond me to understand how the law makers seem to get off without so much as a scratch for the horrible laws they make. Pick on the cops, pick on Trump but the fact is the law makers are the responsible ones here.
Civil asset forfeiture represents bad law made by mad men who seek to line the government coffers anyway they can. It’s a law that needs to end not only because it invites abuse but because it’s very design is meant to skirt the constitutional rights of men. It is the proverbial deal with the Devil.
The president agrees there should be no restraint on a form of legalized theft he clearly does not understand.