Earlier this year we penned an article titled “The Road to Eliminating Civil Asset Forfeiture” with hopes that the tide was finally going to turn in the direction of protecting innocent property owners.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have dashed those hopes.
With a swift punch to the gut for asset forfeiture reform advocates everywhere, Mr. Sessions announced the expansion of a government program that allows law enforcement agencies to seize property from Americans who are simply accused of a crime, no conviction required.
Civil asset forfeiture is a direct violation of our Fifth Amendment right to due process of law. It’s severely troubling that the number one law enforcement officer in our country doesn’t even understand the constitutionality of his policy decisions.
Or maybe our esteemed Attorney General knows he is breaking his oath to the Constitution and doesn’t care?
The American people certainly know where they stand on this issue. A recent poll shows that 84% of Americans oppose civil asset forfeiture. That alone should be enough to tell Mr. Sessions and members of Congress to act immediately to abolish this absurd and harmful policy.
Mr. Sessions went on to make some pretty remarkable statements about the unconstitutional practice:
“Civil asset forfeiture is a key tool that helps law enforcement defund organized crime, take back ill-gotten gains, and prevent new crimes from being committed, and it weakens the criminals and the cartels.”
With all due respect, Mr. Sessions, aren’t you talking about criminal asset forfeiture? You know, when you seize someone’s assets after you convict them of a crime.
He then championed his previous bipartisan reform efforts as a U.S. Senator:
“When I was in the Senate, I worked with Senator Schumer to make modifications to the civil asset forfeiture program. We required probable cause for the seizure of property.”
The problem with only requiring probable cause is that law enforcement can find “probable cause” to seize your cash and valuables for nearly ANY reason. At the very least, it should require evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the property was used in a crime – and determined in a courtroom. This would make it criminal asset forfeiture. See the difference?
Finally, Mr. Sessions blessed us with this gem:
“I am directing agencies and components adopting seized property to prioritize assets that will most effectively advance our overall goal of reducing violent crime.”
Did he just tell law enforcement to take what they need? With state and federal agencies constantly whining about being under budget, you can expect this to be an open invitation to incentivize high revenue property for seizure.
Senator Rand Paul said, “Law enforcement seizures should be motivated by public safety, not financial rewards.” We couldn’t agree more, and it is clear civil asset forfeiture is not motivated by public safety.
Luckily, Senator Paul and a few other principled Republicans are taking a hard stand on an issue formerly championed by the left:
Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI):
Senator Mike Lee (R-UT):
Sen. Lee added this is his press release:
“Instead of revising forfeiture practices in a manner to better protect Americans’ due process rights, the DOJ seems determined to lose in court before it changes its policies for the better.”
We commend Sen. Paul, Sen. Lee, and Rep. Amash for taking a stand on this important issue, and we look forward to working with them to eliminate civil asset forfeiture for good.
Senator Paul currently has a bill that would provide for the most sweeping civil asset forfeiture reform in decades, the FAIR Act (S. 642/ H.R. 1555). The FAIR Act is designed to protect the rights of innocent property owners by reestablishing the legal concept of “innocent until proven guilty.” It requires the government to prove the property owner intentionally knew or used the property to commit a crime, and it eliminates the federal “equitable” sharing program which has enabled rapid growth of civil asset forfeiture at the state and local level.
America’s Liberty PAC supports the FAIR Act and urges Congress to take immediate action to eliminate civil asset forfeiture. Civil asset forfeiture is ruining lives, you don’t need it to fight crime effectively, and the vast majority of Americans oppose the practice.
Civil asset forfeiture is government theft. Let’s end it.