News & Politics

Petition on WhiteHouse.Gov Calls for Abolishing Asset Forfeiture Laws

Attorney General Jeff Sessions attends a news conference at the Department of Justice, Thursday, July 20, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Imagine a group of armed men show up out of the blue and take everything you own. You’ve done literally nothing to warrant what’s happening, and in an instant you find yourself being threatened, intimidated, and now absent your property. What would you do?

Well, most would say “call the police.” Unfortunately, the people taking your crap are the police.

The process of civil asset forfeiture was put in place as a way of putting the screws to drug dealers. Not only would they risk losing their freedom, but also the fruits of their illicit labors. Unfortunately, since the law was enacted many people have found themselves bereft of their property without due process and often without formally being charged with any crime.

A petition on WhiteHouse.gov now calls for the abolition of civil asset forfeiture laws. The petition reads:

Civil forfeiture impacts thousands of citizens each year. While a few states have removed the ability for law enforcement to violate the 5th amendment, specifically the seizure of property without due process, the current sitting AG Jeff Sessions is not only in favor of this actively anti-Constitutional behavior, he wishes to increase it.

However, audit after audit of state civil forfeiture cases shows that criminal proceedings and successful prosecutions of victims of civil forfeiture are vanishingly small compared to the amount of property taken.

Accordingly, the only reasonable description of civil forfeiture is “theft under color of law.”

We call on Congress to remove civil forfeiture in all forms from Federal law, effectively immediately.

To be sure, civil asset forfeiture reform has been gaining steam. More and more people are becoming aware of the fact that law enforcement in many jurisdictions are under no obligation to prove wrongdoing has even been committed, much less that the individual whose property has been seized was involved with it.

Some states have recently begun changing their laws to require conviction of a crime before assets can be seized, which makes a whole lot more sense. After all, doesn’t the Fifth Amendment guarantee that no person “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”?

Yet civil asset forfeiture laws do precisely that. There’s window dressing designed to give ammunition for those who argue otherwise, but it’s not. The only court dates required list the property as the defendant and it’s a case of “innocent until proven guilty” without the possibility of a court appointed attorney.

Frankly, while it might have sounded like a good idea at the time, the reality is something very different. It’s time to take a long step back and recognize when the controlled burn has gotten out of hand and threatens the entire forest.