CIVIL FORFEITURE HAS TO GO
We have all heard the old saying, “You do the crime you do the time,” but this is not the case anymore, you can be punished, assets taken even if you don’t commit a crime, pure suspicion is reasonable enough to snatch all you have and leave your life in shatters. Laws are set up to protect the innocent, to protect society from those that prey on you, but what do you do when the very government who is saying they are doing this are in fact the ones preying on the people? This is the case we have to today with Civil Forfeiture laws.
These laws were put in place by well-intended lawmakers, they were fighting rampant drug smuggling in the 1980’s and were looking at ways to aid the law enforcement organizations in fighting this epidemic. It was during this time with strong bipartisan support both sides of the Isle voted to give the law another tool in combating these drug kingpins, the right to seize their property when they were finally arrested. While the intent was right, what it has grown into is not any place near what it started out as.
Due to the enormous size of assets, millions, even hundreds of millions in cash, an arrest was not enough to hold a suspect, they could merely post bail, then flee the country with their hundreds of millions in tow, to stop this the authorities were authorized to seize the assets and hold them until a conviction was given, that way there would be no use of the assets to flee from justice.
Now this may seem like a good idea, and it was, but what it has morphed to is not. Over time the police and other law enforcement agencies did not wish to wait to access the funds until a conviction was passed, so they put out laws allowing them to seize the money and distribute them upon seizure, this is where the doors for corruption and abuse came in. Soon police departments along with other law enforcement agencies were not only looking forward to these assets; they were actively counting them in as part of their operating budget.
It was not long before laws morphed into something even more insidious, no longer did you have to be a drug dealer, nor did you have to also bee arrested, just suspicion or on the word of a person in a DA’s office or the FBI or Justice agents could come in and seize all you have, you were not left with any way to fight this, all you had left was at your own expense to go to court and fight for not only your assets are taken, but many times in the process your businesses and reputation were left destroyed all due to a snaffu or view that you may have gotten your assets through less than legal means, so you should not have them any longer.
Case in point Alabama car dealer Jamey Vibbert, he was for all of his life an upstanding citizen in his small town in Alabama, a three-time Rotary Club “Ambassador of the Year,” and a local hero, but all this was shattered when one day agents showed up at his business and accused him of selling two cars reportedly purchased with drug money, so without any due process, court appearances the authorities seized the vehicles in question. His crime? Turns there were none, he was never charged.
So what was the outcome of this? Soon no one would come purchase cars from him, and I can hardly blame them, the government then could seize the vehicle, saying he obtained them through ill gains, thus his business, then house then basically all he had started a downward spiral.
But there is more to the story, one of the things law enforcement agencies do now is use these funds to supplement their budget, thus when he was arrested they not only went after his vehicles they claimed were sold from drug money, they immediately confiscated all his bank accounts, all 25,000 dollars of it, it was lost to him, there was no court to attend nothing, all he could do was go to court to fight for what was taken, to prove that he was not guilty. It turns out in another twist we see the old saying, “Innocent until proven guilty” is no longer the case, you have all taken until you can prove you are not guilty. Thus our guarantees under the law are thrown out the door. While he did eventually recover what was taken, he was out of what he had owned previously and $300,000 in legal costs, this is not justice, it is a travesty.
This practice needs to stop, while I have no problem with seizing assets and holding them, they should never be touched until a conviction is given, if no sentence the government has no business moving the assets, does not matter if they think the person is guilty, you have to presume innocents until you can prove guilt.
Some states are beginning to support this, it is wrong to look at your budget, see shortfalls and figure out what to seize, it is a small jump to figuring people with millions don’t need all that money, you have better need for it and set them up to take what you feel they don’t need. At that point, the government set up to protect us from criminals becomes the criminal organization.
We need to follow in the path of these states; nothing can be taken until a guilty verdict is given, while assets can be held in trust, which in some cases are problematic in its right, no one should have access to them.
I don’t find this the fault of law enforcement, in many ways this rest solely in the hands of our legislators, they have used this as a means to force the police to fund their departments, they are given two choices then, either halt all operations and be underfunded, or to do what the politicians want and go after assets they usually would never dare to do. A national study found 60 percent of the 1,400 municipal and county agencies surveyed across the country relied on forfeiture profits as a “necessary” part of their budget.
The other problem is with this significant amount of cash and assets the opening for corruption can be overpowering, while it is not overwhelming that we know of, the temptation to grab a ring, diamond neckless or something from a person can be too much of a temptation to handle.
The worst part of this, the ones that are hit the hardest by this are the ones least able to afford to fight against this travesty. If you look at the African American community, you see they are hit much worse then anyone else. Now I am the first to admit due to the crimes that are committed about the demographics; this may see a little uptake, what is done as a whole is not explainable.
Mobile Attorney Chase Dearman has represented more than 50 people in civil forfeiture cases. In one example, Dearman said police seized tens of thousands of dollars from a black man who had just cashed a $100,000 check from a workman’s compensation settlement.
Police stopped the man, found illegal drugs and paraphernalia on the property, and took his money. They also took a coffee table, two paintings, television sets and the man’s fiancée’s sunglasses.
“I have never had a Caucasian client who has had a narcotics officer unscrew the TVs from their walls and take them out the front door and confiscate them,” Derman told SPLC. “However, it is a common occurrence with African-American clients.”
State prosecutors in Alabama filed 1,591 civil asset forfeiture cases in 2015. They fought to keep cash, cars and other items taken by officers. “In many cases, those suspects were not charged with any crime,” SPLC wrote.
In this I differ with Sessions, we need to contact President Trump and have him put pressure on AG Sessions to stop this. Unfortunately, Sessions is looking at doing just the opposite, guess the old prosecutor never dies. While I am a fan of this administration, as time goes on I am not so much of him.
Republicans have long criticized civil forfeiture and have pushed back firmly against former Alabama senator and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions who has backed the practice.
“With care – we’ve gotta be careful – and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures,” Sessions said in July.
That didn’t sit well with Sen. Rand Paul who told Fox News that in America, “you should be innocent until proven guilty and your property shouldn’t be taken without a court trial.”
“The fact that Attorney General Sessions is going all-in on this is offensive to a lot of us who have been trying to reform this situation,” he said.
We need this to end; it is time for us all to tell our president this is not what we wanted. While there is no problem with taken goods from people who have made them in criminal gains, we need due process to make sure the abuses we see now are not being carried on.
Also, while I am a supporter of Trump, I am realistic, even in a best-case scenario he will only be president for another 7 years, after that we don’t know who will have the office, I hope with all hope that we see Ambassador Haley, VP Pence or someone in like that, but we could see another liberal. If the liberals have shown us with the Obama administration, they have no problem with breaking the law for what they see as a political necessity, how much of a push would it take to push to seize our property to fund their efforts? It is time for this to stop and do so in a way that it would take an act of Congress to change it. We need to do away with civil forfeiture and bring back criminal forfeiture as the only legal means of seizing assets.