Civil Asset Forfeiture

Recently Trump invited some members of the National Sheriffs Association to the White House to listen to their concerns. (See transcript here, the video down below.) That was a nice gesture, but unfortunately one of their concerns was the pressure on them to ease up on civil asset forfeiture. In their minds it robs them of a powerful tool in fighting drug dealers — they don’t understand the way it has been abused. The discussion about asset forfeiture starts at 21:32. (Click here for the transcript of just this part of the meeting.)

The part that bothers me the most is

PARTICIPANT: Mr. President, on asset forfeiture, we got a state senator in Texas who was talking about introducing legislation to require conviction before we can receive their forfeiture.

THE PRESIDENT: Can you believe that?

PARTICIPANT: And I told him that the cartel would build a monument to him in Mexico if he could get that legislation.

THE PRESIDENT: Who is the state senator? Want to give his name? We’ll destroy his career.

(Laughter.) Okay, thank you.

That part starts at 26:50 in the video.

As I wrote in a post on the subject in June, 2015, Andy and I were pleased to learn it’s illegal in New Mexico. It was originally designed to cripple large-scale criminal enterprises by seizing their resources, but it

allows police to seize — and then keep or sell — any property they allege is involved in a crime. Owners need not ever be arrested or convicted of a crime for their cash, cars, or even real estate to be taken away permanently by the government.
–The American Civil Liberties Union

If innocent people want to get their property back they need to sue, a long and expensive process. Otherwise the police get to keep part or all of the assets, which gives them a huge incentive to use this technique.

In my previous post I included this video of John Oliver discussing some of the abuses of the system.

Unfortunately it looks as if attempts to stop the abuses will be even harder now.


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12 Responses to Civil Asset Forfeiture

  1. joared says:

    This is just the beginning — demolishing consumer’s rights, eliminating bank customer’s protections, and much more — all for the good of the people, I’m sure, but what people?

  2. Rummuser says:

    I hope that you won’t mind my not offering any comments on this purely American problem.
    Rummuser´s last blog post ..Impatience.

  3. tammy j says:

    i’m with rummy. my only comment would be depressing and full of chagrin.
    capitalism marches on apparently. on all levels.
    tammy j´s last blog post ..moving on old bean

    • Jean says:

      Yes, some of my posts will be easily skipped by the reader, but well worth writing about. The executive branch has great increased its powers in the past years — even under Bush and Obama. We’re now seeing if we still have a system of checks and balances.

      I became interested in checks and balances when I was in high school and read Plato’s Republic. It was about a decade after WW II and we had always been taught how wonderful democracy was, but Plato was anti-democratic. He believed democracies always led to tyranny:

      Plato thought political regimes followed a predictable evolutionary course, from oligarchy to democracy to tyranny. Oligarchies give way to democracies when the elites fail, when they become spoiled, lazy, profligate, and when they develop interests apart from those they rule.

      Democracies give way to tyrannies when mob passion overwhelms political wisdom and a populist autocrat seizes the masses. But the tyrant is not quite a tyrant at first. On the contrary, in a democracy the would-be tyrant offers himself as the people’s champion. He’s the ultimate simplifier, the one man who can make everything whole again.

      Sound familiar?
      —Vox, The people’s tyrant: what Plato can teach us about Donald Trump

      Our founding fathers distrusted democracy too, that’s why they established our government as a republic, with checks and balances. Times have changed a lot, we’ll see if the system still works. History in the making. I think it’s fascinating.

  4. tammy j says:

    it IS fascinating. I didn’t mean I would skip the post! it’s part of my education.
    but I sometimes don’t feel I can make an intelligent or informed comment!
    the marine agrees with plato. we’ve talked about it.
    it would be interesting to see if there has been another time where the checks and balances in place by the forefathers were ever this in danger of being over ruled. or undone.
    tammy j´s last blog post ..moving on old bean

  5. Cathy in NZ says:

    only watched John Oliver – who I have began to love with his take on pertinent news/other related… his snapshot and take is revealing even if a little amusing.

    I don’t think I have ever known much about USA as such, snippets but now the stuff rolling in since your new President stepped up – sadly I’m baffled on matters, that seem rather unusual…

    no comments, because can’t even decide where to begin or even what to say!

    • Jean says:

      Thanks for coming by — no need to make a detailed comment. I included Oliver because he’s easy to listen to and showed how egregious asset forfeiture can be. 🙂

  6. Linda Sand says:

    Asset forfeiture before conviction sounds wrong to me. What happened to presumed innocent?

    • Jean says:

      According to Wikipedia,

      In civil forfeiture, assets are seized by police based on a suspicion of wrongdoing, and without having to charge a person with specific wrongdoing, with the case being between police and the thing itself, sometimes referred to by the Latin term in rem, meaning “against the property”; the property itself is the defendant and no criminal charge against the owner is needed.

      It still gives the police a blank check, which they sometimes misuse. It doesn’t inspire much faith in the government, does it?

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