Civil Asset Forfeiture: “You Don’t Own That”

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Did you know that the government can seize your property – cash, jewelry, cars  – and even your home – without charging or convicting you with a crime?

The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit the governmental takings of life, liberty or property without due process of law.

But the government has found a way around that.

In civil asset forfeiture cases the government proceeds directly against your property.  An individual doesn’t need to be convicted of a crime, so criminal procedure does not apply. And because the forfeiture is against the property, the owner is a third party claimant in related court proceedings. (source)

Here’s an example of how this works:

A police officer pulls a car over for speeding.  The officer thinks he smells marijuana and seizes money and perhaps other property from the vehicle. The officer (or other law enforcement agent) writes and signs a statement or affidavit explaining the situation and reasons for the seizure of the property.   That statement is used to show the courts the link between the alleged criminal behavior and the seized property.

This amounts to true “highway robbery” or roadside piracy.

Because the case is against the property and not the owner, court cases have names like these:

United States v. $124,700 in U.S. Currency

State v. One 2012 Mercedes Benz

United States v. One Gold Necklace

Property, of course, does not have constitutional rights.  As Sarah Stillman explains in her New Yorker article Taken:

There’s no right to an attorney and, in most states, no presumption of innocence. Owners who wish to contest often find that the cost of hiring a lawyer far exceeds the value of their seized goods. Washington, D.C., charges up to twenty-five hundred dollars simply for the right to challenge a police seizure in court, which can take months or even years to resolve.

In 2012, the Justice Department took in a record of nearly $4.2 billion in forfeitures.

Asset forfeiture creates huge incentives for law enforcement officers to “police for profit”.  The money can be used for salaries and to purchase advanced equipment.

A program called equitable sharing allows police to take property from citizens under federal civil forfeiture law instead of the applicable state law. This is a great deal for law enforcement because federal law makes civil forfeiture both relatively easy and rewarding – as much as 80 percent of  the proceeds are returned to the seizing agency.

Investigations have revealed what some proceeds have been used to acquire:

  • in Camden County, Ga., a $90,000 Dodge Viper for the county’s DARE program;
  • in Colorado, bomber jackets for the Colorado State Patrol;
  • in Austin, Texas, running gear for the police department;
  • in Fulton County, Ga., football tickets for the district attorney’s office,
  • in Webb County, Texas, $20,000 for TV commercials for the district attorney’s re-election campaign;
  • in Kimble County, Texas, $14,000 for a “training seminar” in Hawaii for the staff of the district attorney’s office;
  • in Albany, N.Y., over $16,000 for food, gifts and entertainment for the police department.

If a state has laws that better protect its residents or prevent law enforcement from directly benefiting from forfeitures, agencies can apply federal law.

According to The Institute for Justice, equitable sharing payments from the U.S. Department of Justice to state and local law enforcement doubled from about $200 million to $400 million from 2000 – 2008.

In the following video, John Stossel discusses the practice of civil asset forfeiture with Scott Bullock from the Institute for Justice and Radley Balko from Reason Magazine.

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Lily Dane is a staff writer for The Daily Sheeple. Her goal is to help people to “Wake the Flock Up!”

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  • RickE.

    This is absolutely THEFT by our government towards we subjects! There’s no other way to construe it!
    They completely subvert and annihilate due process!!Then they steal what they want.

    USA? What’s that? The United Socialists of AmeriKa??

  • Revenge Served Cold

    Just remember the POS cop’s name. Find out who he is and where he sleeps… need I say more?

  • Joe

    State sponsored theft.Cops do this knowing full well what they are doing and actively seek out more victims. The sheriffs department in my small county and state patrol love to do this on interstate 80 around Sidney Nebraska. Criminals with badges. Watch out when passing through here.

  • Musashi

    Exactly Revenge, exactly.

  • Sierra Muguel

    Americans neither own themselves or their property ands haven’t for years. Just stop paying income and property tax and refuse to pay it ever and you will be stripped of you property and put into prison. We are all owned

  • It is I only


  • PGTF

    Now you see why they want to disarm you.

  • BubbaJ

    PRIVATE PROPERTY DOES NOT EXIST! You DO NOT OWN YOUR HOME even if mortgage is paid off. Don’t pay your property tax and the local government WILL TAKE IT, so you are only renting it! Now in my county you can not have a vehicle in your yard that does not have a TAG on it. Yep has happened to me. I live out way out on a dead end road that I pay property taxes on. Code enforcement rode down my road, took pictures and sent me a fine/notice that I was in violation of county codes. Took it to court and was told the road I was using belongs to the county ????? I still pay property taxes on it, so land stolen and no compensation.
    WE are being TRAMPLED worse than the British ever could have done to us in 1770’s! Time is now to fight, become a rebel with a cause!

  • flek

    The state is our own creation, and is totally out of control.

    It’s time to kill the beast before it kills us.

    The government must fear the people.

    Non compliance and arms to back the non compliance is a good step forward.




  • wasntme

    There is a video on you tube an excop made that he flat out says when he was on patrol, he would look for a car he wanted and then start following them around until they did something to pull them over for. After that, like the story says, I think I smell something. And its all over. And what a joke drug dogs are. Like the handler can’t get the dog to do whatever he wants, and even of the dog doesn’t hit on anything, the handler can still say they did. And what are you going to do about it?

  • PJ London

    The Democratic Republic of the Congo is looking better every day. There you only have to worry about bandits, terrorists and murderers.

    • Jean

      And the bandits, terrorists, and murderers don’t have state sanction, usually.

  • vad

    The article portrays the practice as 100% unreasonable and evil; I think, for the sake of balance the journalist should have at least presented the other side.

    The other side is the fact that the goal is to undermine drug trafficking. The drug bosses use couriers to carry the money, so even if the police manages to apprehend the individual, he is only a pawn, while the real criminals are unreachable. So this forfeiture tries to undermine the finances of the operation.

    And surely enough, as in every operation, there will be mistakes and there will be excesses, such as whole towns that happen to sit on the big highway, making the forfeiture their prime source of revenue. But from the numerous stories I read about this practice, I can say for sure that in very big portion of them, the story of the victim does not hold water. Should these people be let go absent sufficiently strong indications that the money is indeed involved in contraband? it’s tough question, but the fact is, the high courts have recognized that this is one grey area where there has to be a balance between government interest vs. liberties.

    The core of the problem is the nonsense of the “war on drugs”, which has produced numerous aberrations in our society. This practice is only a consequence and using the system as an opportunity to make a revenue.

    • RickE.

      There shouldn’t be a “war” on anything but when someone actually attacks the USA on OUR ground!
      The “wars” are simply justification for growing the police state into a monster.

      The war on drugs, terror, crime, etc etc, are ineffectual jokes. And the jokes are on the taxpayers and citizens when their freedoms are incrementally but thoroughly removed.

      • vad

        Many people will argue that when the terrorist performs an act, he attacks us on our ground. They will produce the same argument about drugs, crime, and pretty much anything they disagree with.

        Since these people usually happen to be more politically active and aggressive than average, and since we live in the democracy, the end result is that the politicians can’t ignore their voices.

        So, when yet another school arrests 3rd grader for bringing a cookie in the form of a gun, it’s because just yesterday the school promised “zero tolerance” to the same hysterical parents who get angry today. And when the police seizes the cash from the guy who has all signs of being drug courier, it’s because just yesterday there were demands from the citizens to “get tough on drugs”. The bureaucrats would be happy to sit on their chairs and not do anything – unless they are forced by their electorate.

    • PJ London

      Your concept is just plain wrong. The current law provides that “you are guilty until proven innocent” and then makes it prohibitively expensive or impossible to defend against. How do you mount a defence when they have stolen all your assets?
      No-one is against the confiscation or seizure of stolen or illegal profits, after the court has determined the guilt of the accused and the source of the goods or assets being seized. If the seizure was to hold the goods for a period of (say) 30 days, and returned to the owner unless a court was shown evidence of the illegal source, then there would be little opposition to such confiscation.
      It is the blatant theft of assets for reward by individual police employees, i.e. cops, with no realistic chance of recovery by the owner, that is just plain wrong.
      As to “the balance between government interest and liberty, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” (Thomas Jefferson), and I am sure that you know many of his other quotes on liberty

  • PGTF

    There is no bigger drug dealer on the planet than the CIA. It is owned by the Federal Reserve and the FR is owned by the Bank of London and the B of L is owned by the Rothschild Family with the full approval of the Queen. Now who is the drug dealer?

    There has never been a “war” on drugs.
    It is a façade to facilitate its existence and to place the blame on patsies. Many profit from it, including the police.

    However the police are not aware that their behavior is hurting their own communities and the future of their families while making the tyrants more powerful.

  • allen goldberg

    And the TURDS in government wonder why we do not view them with respect and trust?

    • Roy Smith

      Caligula once said,”Let them hate me so long as they fear [me].”

    • They are satisfied with the fact that the majority of us do.

      • allen goldberg

        Nope not true anymore

        • Are you believing the liars, the damn liars, or the statisticians?

  • unblocktheplanet

    So waddya think, these billions are just more money for war?