Civil Asset Forfeiture Rears Its Ugly Head Giving the Government a Right to Steal


Senator Rand Paul took a stand against Attorney General Sessions’ recent decision to ramp up civil asset forfeiture. It’s one with good intentions. Sessions wants to give law enforcement tools they say help them control serious law breakers, but it’s at the expense of our constitutional rights.

What Civil Asset Forfeiture is

Sessions is allowing local police to act under Federal law. They become Federal agents.

Civil Asset Forfeiture gives the government the right to steal. They can seize your accounts or possessions without criminal charges or any criminal connections. You then have to prove you are innocent to get your assets back. It has affected farmers, veterans, and restaurant owners who have no connection to crime.

Sessions issued his new ramping up of the practice with an admonishment to law enforcement to “be careful”. But they haven’t been careful enough so why would he think they would be?

The reality is that law enforcement agencies can take property they suspect is tied to crime even if no criminal charges are filed. Law enforcement agencies get to keep a share of whatever is forfeited.

In Oklahoma, law enforcement agencies across 12 counties took $6 million in cash over a five-year span, less than half of it came from people charged with a crime.

Critics say it at times turns into “policing for profit” with side deals between law enforcement and the local politicians.

During the Sessions announcement, we were informed that 1 in 5 who have had their assets taken by law enforcement without due process are never convicted.

The government reported it differently. They presented civil asset forfeiture as highly successful in 4 out of 5 cases.

Take these two cases

People aren’t entitled to get their money back, even when found innocent. They can sue but that often doesn’t work out.

Take the case of Carol Hinders of Arnolds Park, Iowa. She has a cash-only business. Thousands of dollars were seized from her account by the IRS solely because she had deposited less than $10,000 at a time, which they viewed as an attempt to avoid triggering a required government report. She had no idea a report had to be filed.

Then there is the case of Army Sgt. Jeff Cortazzo of Arlington, VA, who began saving for his daughters’ college costs during the financial crisis, when many banks were failing. He stored cash first in his basement and then in a safe-deposit box. All of the money came from paychecks, he said, but he worried that when he deposited it in a bank, he would be forced to pay taxes on the money again. So he asked the bank teller what to do.

“She said: ‘Oh, that’s easy. You just have to deposit less than $10,000.’”

The government seized $66,000; settling costs for Sergeant Cortazzo were $21,000. The sergeant had to delay his daughter’s college education. He wondered why the teller didn’t just let him know it was illegal.

Thanks to civil forfeiture laws, the ever-expanding IRS can seize the accounts of innocent people without their ever having committed a crime. The victims aren’t given notice and are subjected to expensive court proceedings to get the money or property back, if they get it back at all.

Critics say this incentive has led to the creation of a law enforcement dragnet, with more than 100 multiagency task forces combing through bank reports, looking for accounts to seize.

We are not talking KGB or Russia, we’re talking the United States of America

In The Federalist Papers, James Madison and others argued that the proposed U.S. Constitution would protect the liberty and property of the citizens from usurpations of power from the federal government.

Alexander Hamilton pointed to Article I section 10 of the Constitution which explicitly protects creditors by forbidding states to pass laws “impairing the obligation of contract” or even devaluing debt obligations by making “any thing but gold and silver a tender in payment of debts.”

State Senator Konni Burton offered a concise statement on the issue today.



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