Civil Forfeiture: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

You have the natural right to protect what you own from people that would simply take it from you. It may be hard to do this if a gang is attacking, and it becomes almost impossible to protect your property when that gang is big enough to be called a government. So the founders who wrote the Constitution thought they would be able to limit the negative actions of the state by writing the Fourth Amendment (emphasis added):

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

And the Fifth Amendment:

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.

And that last part was a problem from the beginning, because someone should never be compelled to sell their property unless the right price is offered, and they agree. But  public use soon turned into private property being taken not for public use, but for public “benefit”; as in, the person or company the government sells your land to will pay more taxes than you would have paid. Check out Kelo vs. New London.

Yet in the same country in which those amendments supposedly still apply (as a written form roughly mirroring our natural rights), the police, agents of the government, are seizing homes, cars, and money without ever charging someone with a crime. This is called civil asset forfeiture, and it was supposedly meant as a tool in the drug war—you know, because stopping someone from smoking a joint is more important than being secure in your effects, and not being deprived of your property.

The case I read about today was related to a home in Philadelphia (a particularly terrible city when it comes to asset forfeiture) that was taken from a man and his wife when their son was arrested with $40 worth of heroin—it is unclear if he was in the home when arrested. Philadelphia brings in almost $6million per year from stealing people’s property. They even attempted to take an old woman’s home when police pursued suspects through the unlocked house, and one of the suspects ditched drugs inside. Luckily, someone took her case for free, and the city dropped the claim.

Civil forfeiture was authorized in 1988 as a means to go after drug traffickers to take away the “tools of the trade”, meaning anything used or earned from the drug business.  However, because these cases are technically civil actions, property owners receive almost none of the protections that criminal defendants receive. Instead of them having to prove your guilt, you must prove your innocence.

The governent must only prove that a property, not the owner, was “more likely than not” involved in the perpetration of a crime.

Out of all the states in the U.S. it appears the safest bet to escape the state stealing your stuff with civil asset forfeiture are Maine, North Dakota, and Vermont, with ratings by the Institute for Justice of A-, B+, and B respectively. But this injustice happens in every state, and nets police departments and prosecutors millions and millions of dollars in stolen property.

This is another reason to end the war on drugs, but even more so, to end this attitude that we are subjects, and the government rulers. There is no reason why someone who has never hurt anyone else should have their property taken. If we don’t stand up for everyone in society unjustly targeted and unfairly treated by the government, then what can we expect when the government moves down the line, and targets our homes, or our freedom for forfeiture due to whatever made up excuse or arbitrary law. If there is no victim, there is no crime. In civil asset forfeiture, the only victims are the ones being robbed systematically by the government.

7 thoughts on “Civil Forfeiture: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    • Thanks Nichole I really appreciate the encouragement! I’m very glad we met at porcfest as well 🙂 Now if I can just get people I don’t meet to read it…. haha

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