Civil Asset Forfeiture Makes Police into Organized Crime

In many cases—and egregiously here in Tennessee—police have essentially become part of organized crime through civil asset forfeiture. Police officers routinely seize money and property from innocent people, without ever charging them, let alone proving them guilty of a crime.

civil forfeiture

This was brought home to me in a recent post at the Daily Signal: “Time to Change Course: Stop Letting Police Seize Property from Innocent People.”

“[Civil Asset Forfeiture] should be abolished.”

That’s the considered opinion of the two men — John Yoder and Brad Cates — who, in the 1980s, oversaw the development of federal civil asset forfeiture as a tool to combat organized crime and the drug trade.

At the time, forfeiture seemed eminently reasonable. Drug kingpins were making millions from criminal enterprises that banked on addiction and suffering. Whether because they lacked enough evidence to convict kingpins or for tactical reasons, law enforcement officers settled for hitting them in the wallet by seizing money and property traceable to illegal activity.

But three decades later, asset forfeiture’s biggest targets aren’t kingpins; it’s the cash found during routine traffic stops for small-time infractions. As Yoder and Cates point out, forfeiture does not apply to organized crime or drug crimes alone; some 200 other crimes now render individuals’ property subject to seizure.

And most troubling of all, in most states and under federal rules, a citizen’s cash, car and other property can be taken without law enforcement having to charge or convict the owner of a crime. In fact, to get property returned, owners usually have to prove their innocence.

There are many outrageous deeds covered in the story. This part sounds like a RICO violation to me:

“…a practice known as ‘equitable sharing,’ in which local and state law enforcement officers seize property and then refer forfeiture actions to federal authorities in return for a portion of the resulting proceeds, encourages state and local authorities to do an end-run around some state laws that limit the ability of local authorities to seek forfeiture and to keep the resulting proceeds.”

In other words, local authorities hook up with the Feds to steal people’s assets, and then divide the spoils amongst themselves. Does this not sound like life under occupation by ancient Rome?

“Soldiers also asked [John the Baptist], ‘And we, what shall we do [to demonstrate repentance]?’ And he said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages’” (Luke 3:14).

[See also, “Civil Forfeiture Gone Wild: City of Brotherly Love Rapes Residents.”]

There is nothing new under the sun. Humanity is fallen, and prone to the same sins and crimes, over and over. It’s time to put an end to this particular abuse, called “asset forfeiture,” which has been used to buy police all kinds of toys they all-too-often use in further oppressing the people they’re supposed to serve.