When we consider writing an article on civil asset forfeiture, we can be tempted to change it to a different topic. After all, we have written a number of times on the subject and don’t want to seem overbearing. Been there, done that, right? Except, we can’t shake it off that easily. The issue is that important. And, despite a conversation about civil forfeiture going on for years, it’s a good guess only a small percentage of the population is very aware of it.
Hence, we continue to shine the light on this subject, intent on educating enough people to make a real difference. The practice is inherently specious, wrapped in patriotic and practical language by the legal community who so handsomely benefits from it. This is basically government entities, from towns to states to the feds, and the law enforcement agencies who do their dirty work.
It doesn’t take much to see through it if we would but take a few moments to look carefully. After all, how much sense does it really make to charge an inanimate object with a crime? Not you, not your roommate or car passenger, not the property owner. The property itself.
If that sounds a bit crazy, that’s because it is, but crazy like a fox. Those behind this heinous exercise know they can’t get what they want by going after someone directly. Too many obstacles in the way like laws and constitutions. So, they change the rules. They write the laws to get around common sense and decency and allow them the greatest leeway to confiscate valuable property.In 1984, civil asset forfeiture entered a new phase...the game changed completely in 1996...Bennis v. Michigan...held that the innocent owner defense was not sufficient to recover assets seized during civil asset forfeiture. Click To Tweet
The Origins of Civil Asset Forfeiture
We aren’t the only one writing about this, of course. The following brief excerpt is from a quite lengthy and in-depth coverage of this topic. The detail is impressive and worth the time for those who are interested.
“Civil asset forfeiture has a deep history in maritime law. In many cases, it just wasn’t practical to bring owners of vessels carrying contraband in front of an American court. So customs enforcement would simply seize the contraband. But in practice, seizure of assets was rare and generally required a felony conviction in court. Often times these convictions were obtained in absentia, but the point is that there was a criminal proceeding and due process.
“During the Civil War, as part of sweeping attacks on liberty that included Lincoln suspending habeas corpus and obtaining an arrest warrant for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, supporters of the Confederacy had their property confiscated without due process. Civil asset forfeiture was used during the Prohibition Era to seize assets from bootleggers and suspected bootleggers. Even innocent owners had no defense during Prohibition if their property was used in violation of the Volstead Act.
“In 1984, civil asset forfeiture entered a new phase. The Comprehensive Crime Control Act, championed by then-President Ronald Reagan, allowed for police agencies to keep the assets they seized. This highly incentivized the seizure of assets for the purpose of funding police departments rather than pursuing criminal charges. However, the game changed completely in 1996 – the year of the landmark Supreme Court decision Bennis v. Michigan (516 U.S. 442). This ruling held that the innocent owner defense was not sufficient to recover assets seized during civil asset forfeiture.”
Read the entire piece at Policing For Profit: How Civil Asset Forfeiture Has Perverted American Law Enforcement.