Income mobility in the United States has stagnated, a fact that hurts the poor most of all. If President Trump wishes to keep his promises to help low-income Americans escape poverty, he should instruct his administration to jettison, rather than expand, non-criminal asset forfeiture.
Non-criminal asset forfeiture lets government agents seize Americans’ assets (cash, but also cars and even houses) on the mere suspicion that they were involved in a crime. Asset forfeiture is intended to deprive criminals of their ill-gotten gains, but frequently enables police to take the property of Americans who remain innocent in the eyes of the law.
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On May 19, Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan signed into law House Bill 336, which had the support of 167 of Maryland’s 185 elected representatives. Americans are politically polarized, but agree on one matter: they do not like it when government steals from innocent people.
The Maryland bill further curtails the state’s civil asset forfeiture programs. Civil forfeiture, at least according to the Justice Department, “deprives wrongdoers of the proceeds of their crimes.”
Civil forfeiture does not require proof.But there is just one glaring omission from this definition—civil forfeiture does not require any proof (or even claim) that people committed crimes for the government to take their property.
By the twisted logic of civil forfeiture, property itself is charged with the crime. This is why civil forfeiture cases have absurd names such as United States v. One Solid Gold Object in Form of a Rooster or United States vs. $35,651.11 in U.S. Currency.
Since the Bill of Rights covers property owners instead of property, victims of civil forfeiture are forced to prove their property innocent in order to get it back. And they are not entitled to legal assistance. This is why many people do not fight back after their property is seized—it is simply too expensive to win a court case against the government.
Read the full article at FEE.
[Co-authored with Trevor Burrus)
The Justice Department recently announced that it is resuming the “equitable sharing” part of its civil asset forfeiture program, thus ending one of the major criminal justice reform victories of the Obama administration.
Civil asset forfeiture is a legal tool by which police officers can seize and sell private property without a convicting the owner of any crime, and equitable sharing is a process by which state and local police can circumvent state restrictions on civil asset forfeiture and take property under the color of federal law.
It may sound like a scene from a dystopian novel, but under civil asset forfeiture, a police officer can pull you over, claim he smells marijuana, and then take all the cash you have — and maybe even your car, too. Getting your property back requires going through lengthy court procedures to prove that the property is “innocent.”
Back in December, after Congress enacted reductions to the Justice Department’s civil asset forfeiture fund by $1.2 billion, the Justice Department announced that the program was being deferred until further notice.
Read the rest on The Detroit News, here.