When a person holds office in the United States Government, they swear (or affirm) that they will uphold the Constitution. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, from which all other laws derive their validity.
So consider this language:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor 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’s the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Everybody knows the portion of it that forbids “self-incrimination” (actually, the language is broader than that “nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself”) But there’s also this part:
nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law
In order by law to justly take someone’s life, deprive them of their liberty, or take their property, it must be with due process of law.
So why the bloody hell does “Civil Asset Forfeiture” even exist? This amounts to taking someone’s property simply because some individual in some position in government–whether a law enforcement officer or some bureaucrat–simply claims that they think the property might be used for, or come as a result of, criminal action.
“But!” say proponents, “we need this to hamstring criminals and deny them the benefits of their criminal activities.”
Oh? You’re taking criminals money? You can prove that, right? In a court of law? You know, with due process. So they can challenge your accusations with evidence and witnesses of their own.
Only they don’t. Indeed, if they could do that, they’d have no need for Civil Asset Forfeiture. Instead, we get:
Police seize $125,000 from a man “believing it to be drug money” without any actual evidence of drug crime (no drugs found, for instance). Oh, a drug dog found the scent of narcotics on the money–which is the case with much of the money in general circulation in the US. The police kept the money even though the person they stole it from (yes, I say stole it from) was not charged with any crime.
Another young man, after saving up money to pursue a music career is stopped and his money confiscated, even though he was not charged with any crime.
The list goes on. A man who makes a respectable win at a legal Nevada Casino is driving home with his cash and has it confiscated. No charges. No evidence of any crime. Just his money taken because he was carrying it as cash. He was luckier than some. He managed to get his money back–less the legal fees the lawsuit to get his own money back cost him.
Civil Asset Forfeiture is an abomination. It’s a direct and obvious violation of the Constitution.
Look, I can accept that sometimes temporarily denying someone’s liberty, or holding/denying access to their property as part of an ongoing investigation can be a part of due process itself. A suspect can be arrested and held. Evidence of a crime can be held pending trial. And so on. But you can’t just take it and keep it. The Sixth Amendment? The one right after the Fifth? It grants the accused the right to a speedy trial so as to prevent just that kind of “punishment through process” (throwing someone in jail, denying their liberty, or taking their property as “evidence”, for an “investigation” that never ends).
It is wrong. That the police do it is wrong. That the courts have allowed it is an abomination.
This thing needs to be stopped. It’s gone on far too long already. Write your Representative, Write your Senators. Write the President. If you’re looking for something you can do easily that might not accomplish much by itself but might at least provide a little nudge. Here’s a petition you can sign.
Let’s put this back in the dust heap of history where it belongs so that future generations can look back and say “man, those people back then were dumb!“