An AEI report shows that the federal government seizes more from the people than burglars do thanks to civil forfeiture laws.
Christopher Ingraham wrote on WaPo’s Wonkblog in his 2015 article “Law enforcement took more stuff from people than burglars did last year“ that in 2014, for the first time ever, law enforcement officers took more property from American citizens than burglars did. See the chart below. The government’s a bigger thief than the thieves.
Officers can take cash and property from people without convicting or even charging them with a crime thanks to a controversial practice known as civil asset forfeiture.
According to the Institute for Justice, the Treasury and Justice departments deposited more than $5 billion into their respective asset forfeiture funds. That same year, the FBI reports that burglary losses topped out at $3.5 billion.
The state and local governments are also stealing and their takes aren’t included in the federal totals. The haul in 2013 for only 14 states topped $250 million the Institute for Justice found. The laws vary greatly depending on the state.
A bipartisan bill aimed at limiting the power of civil forfeiture is sitting in Congress. It’s called the Deterring Undue Enforcement by Pro- tecting Rights of Citizens from Excessive Searches and Seizures Act of 2016 or Due Process Act of 2016. It was introduced in May and will be picked up the new Congress or not.
It is said that the police unions kill these bills. At least the one in California was squashed by the police union.
The practice is a warping of the original intent of civil forfeiture.
What Civil Forfeiture Actually Dos
Civil asset forfeiture gives the IRS and law enforcement agencies a personal slush fund. 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’s becoming a popular practice and it has affected farmers, veterans, and restaurant owners who have no connection to crime.
Law enforcement agencies can take property they say 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.
It’s what totalitarian governments do and innocent victims are up against the immense power of the State as they try to get their property back.
Accusations of civil asset forfeiture are turning into “policing for profit”.
It was meant to punish criminals in the act of committing crimes but the federal government can seize assets without evidence.
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. Victims have to prove their innocence without ever having been found guilty.
Civil asset forfeiture is a proceeding by government that can find property guilty of a crime.
There are fewer procedural protections under this law. There is no right to notice, no right to a hearing until after the property has been held for a long time. The person who owns the property must prove their own innocence.
The law allows law enforcement agents to take property or money they suspect of being tied to crime without criminal charges ever being filed. Law enforcement agencies get to keep a share of whatever is forfeited.
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.
Cases of People Who Sued
We are not talking KGB or Russia, we’re talking the United States of America.
Jeff Hirsch who owned a cash business – a convenience store – had his entire bank account containing $447,000 seized and after more than two years and thousands of dollars in expenses, he couldn’t get his money back. His lawyer said the government just wants to keep his money.
After three years of expensive court battles, the Hirsch’s got their money back.
The Bank Secrecy Act requires banks to help U.S. government agencies detect money laundering. Under that act, if you deposit more than $10,000 cash in the bank, the money can be seized. If less than $10,000, it’s a crime and it can be seized.
Carol Hinders of Arnolds Park, Iowa 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 eventually got her money back.
Chris and Mark Sourbouelis of Philadelphia (photo above) had their home seized by the government after their son sold $40 worth of drugs from their home. The Institute for Justice represents the family.
They sued the city of Philadelphia and were finally allowed back into their home as long as their son came nowhere near it.
The money from forfeitures goes into a special forfeiture fund to be used to seize more money and property. It’s a self-fulfilling fund. It seizes to replenish itself so it can seize some more.
In some cases federal funds are involved, creating a financially lucrative relationship between the feds and local governments.
Russ Caswell owned the Russ Caswell Motel, a family business and a perfectly fine motel. Some people who frequented the motel did things that weren’t legal. He did what he could to assist police. He even gave rooms to the police for free so they could investigate the criminals in ajoining rooms.
That wasn’t good enough for the police. The police seized the entire motel because some guests were criminals. The police were assisted by the feds and they all shared in the loot.
Caswell took them to court and eventually won.
It’s called equitable sharing. Forfeiture is initiated under federal law and the feds then share the proceeds with local authorities.
People are spending thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands to get their property back when they did nothing wrong and were deprived of due process.
This isn’t supposed to happen in the United States.