I realize Congressman Darrel Issa isn’t a favorite with some people in North County, for various reasons that came close to unseating him last November. However, a recent bill of his puts him in my personal pantheon of superb legislators: The Due Process Act of 2016 (H.R. 5283) to curb the federal practice of confiscating personal property without charging someone with a crime.
This is called “civil forfeiture” and its abuse has become one of the great scandals of the overreaching of the federal government. Simply put, “civil forfeiture” allows law enforcement agencies, often with the active collusion of the U.S. Justice Department, to confiscate property if the law enforcement agencies “suspect” that the property, including money, was used in the commission of a crime. Or even if the accused can’t account for where they got the property.
There are documented cases of people crossing the United States with several thousand dollars that they intended to use to buy a car being stopped, and having their stash of money seized because, frankly, cops don’t like big piles of money.
Nothing needs to be proven in court for the seizing agency to keep the property. Even if the charges are later dropped it is possible for the stolen (uh, I mean seized) property to never be returned to the owner.
Often the police agencies that seize the property are then able to use the cash or property to help pay for revenue generation.
Now we are all fairly used to the government stealing money from us in the form of taxes. But this is actual, legalized theft at the point of a gun.
We can’t look for any help in this issue from President Trump, who has announced that he’s a fan of Civil Forfeiture, and even publically promised to “destroy the career” of a Texas state senator who opposes it.
His Attorney General Jeff Sessions, when taking part in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the practice while he was still a Senator in 2015, remarked that it should not be more difficult for “government to take money from a drug dealer than it is for a businessperson to defend themselves in a lawsuit.” In seizing property suspected of involvement in a crime, government “should not have a burden of proof higher than in a normal civil case,” said Sessions.
You also can’t look to the Supreme Court to protect the rights of those who you would think would be covered by the “due process” clause of the Constitution. Only Justice Clarence Thomas wants the High Court to revisit the issue.
Regarding the issue as it related to the case Leonard v. Texas, Thomas wrote, “Whether this Court’s treatment of the broad modern forfeiture practice can be justified by the narrow historical one is certainly worthy of consideration in greater detail.”
In this case Texas police confiscated $200,000 cash from what a Texas woman claimed was proceeds from the sale of her home, and what the police claimed was “probably” proceeds from a drug sale.
“Probably” is not good enough.
Some drug enforcement police have said it would be difficult, if not impossible, for them to prosecute the “War on Drugs” without civil forfeiture. I. Don’t. Care. Full Stop.
I’m sick of the “War on Drugs” being used as the excuse for violating thousands of peoples’ civil rights. Civil Forfeiture needs to be reined in. Thanks to Darrell Issa for having the political courage to go after it.