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Civil Asset Forfeiture

The concept of civil asset forfeiture is one of the cruelest impositions our government has ever imposed onto the people. In essence, it allows law enforcement officials to become legal pirates to literally steal, at will, people’s money and property on the slightest pretense that it might in some way or another be associated with a crime. That includes the mere possession of a “large” (undefined) amount of cash.

In many cases, police have pulled people over on our highways, demanded to search their vehicles, and seized whatever money they had been carrying. In some cases they were drug dealers, but many of the seizures were from completely innocent people on perfectly legitimate businesses, or on vacations.


In 2009, an officer pulled over a 22 year old college student on I-70 in Indiana, asked him to step out if his car, and patted him down. In his pocket, he found a roll of cash that contained $17,500, money to buy a new car for his aunt.

The officer detained the student and his passengers and called a K-9 unit to check the car for drugs. The dog made two positive indications, but later searching of the car found no evidence of any drugs. Nevertheless, the police seized the money and began legal proceedings to keep it under Indiana’s asset forfeiture law.

Unfortunately, about 97% of cash in circulation contains minute traces of cocaine and other illegal substances that are detectable by dogs.

Police seized $201,000 from Lisa Leonard, who was about to buy a house for her son. The excuse: It was being transported on a public highway used by drug dealers. The SCOTUS upheld the theft on a technicality.

Police took $8,500 in cash and jewelry from Roderick Daniels, who planned to purchase a new car. They threatened him with jail and money-laundering charges if he didn’t sign a waiver forfeiting his property.

The DEA has colluded with the TSA and local police to use scanners and spies to seize cash from American travelers at airports. Since 2006, they have confiscated more than $203 million, nearly all of it from innocent victims. They have even rewarded security screeners who had identified luggage containing cash. Meanwhile, they have not apprehended a single terrorist.


Civil asset forfeiture dates back to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act of 1970, originally intended to seize profits gained by organized crime. In 1978, Congress added drug violations. Finally, in 1984, the Comprehensive Crime Control Act became the coup de grace that made forfeiture a lucrative license for law enforcement to steal whatever it wanted.

The Crime Control Act created two separate funds—one for the Justice Department and one for the Treasury. It also created a provision to give proceeds back to local agencies that helped the feds, a bribe known as “policing for profit.” This motivated the local police to steal money and property. Many law enforcement agents have morphed from protectors and servers to organized criminals.

The state would not have to prove anything. It could use hearsay evidence. Snitches could be awarded up to 25% of the take, up to $50,000. But property owners were barred from testifying or cross-examining the government’s witnesses.

Property is seized by charging it with a real or imagined “crime.” It could be a car that might have transported drugs, or the front yard of a house where some hoodlums made a drug transaction… or… a totally fabricated case to steal a piece of desired property with no crime connection whatsoever.

In most cases, the property’s owners have little or no recourse. Your property is deemed “guilty.” It does not have to be proven like the conviction of a person. The property’s owner is obligated to prove that it is innocent, which in the majority of cases, is nearly impossible. Legal challenges of seizures are difficult and very expensive, and only a few have succeeded. The costs are often greater than the value of the property. Therefore, more than 80% are never challenged.

Under the 1984 law, forfeiture victims cannot obtain court-appointed attorneys; they must hire them on their own at great expense. One without adequate means must hope for a pro bono attorney or one who will work for a portion of the property should he win. And finally, just to get a day in court requires a bond equal to 10% of the property’s value. This outrage is light years away from equal justice under law.

Cato Institute studies have verified that forfeiture revenues from 1985 to 1991 have increased by 1500%. The Justice Department’s takings leaped from $27 million in 1985 to $3.1 billion in 2008. The owners of 80% of this property were never prosecuted or convicted.

According to an article in The Washington Post, “law enforcement took more stuff from people than burglars did.”

What are our leaders going to do to rectify this tragedy? Donald Trump could certainly have a part in it. Firing Jeff Sessions has certainly been a good start, since this former Alabama Senator “has previously declared his love for civil asset forfeiture.” But he must also insist that Congress do everything in its power to overturn this crime wave. This is a serious “must do” to make America great again.


1. Whitehead, John W., Stealing from the Citizenry: How Government Goons Use Civil Asset Forfeiture to Rob Us Blind. Official Robbery - LewRockwell

Official Robbery - LewRockwell

“Civil forfeiture laws represent one of the most serious assaults on private property rights in the nation today...

2. Balko, Radley, The Forfeiture Racket. The Forfeiture Racket

The Forfeiture Racket

Police and prosecutors won't give up their license to steal.

3. Nestmann, Mark, Civil Forfeiture of Cash: It Could Happen to You.

4. Grigg, William Norman, Road Pirates -- Assemble! "Desert Snow" is coming to Idaho.

5. Various Writers, How has civil asset forfeiture not been struck down as unconstitutional? Quora - A place to share knowledge and better understand the world


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