The subject of civil asset forfeiture in the United States was covered briefly in a previous article, but this tyrannical practice requires a more substantial treatment.
Few people have any problems with the authorities seizing the profits of crimes. This is something that goes back centuries if not millennia. If a man arrested on a burglary charge is unable to explain the 25 wide screen TV sets and 20 laptop computers stashed in his garage, they will surely be confiscated, even if their rightful owners cannot be traced. Similarly, whatever one thinks of drug prohibition, a man found in possession of a substantial quantity of illegal drugs might well find his bank account frozen. But how far should forfeiture go? Should even a big drug dealer be bankrupted if he is convicted? How about a small drug dealer? How about the relative of a very small drug dealer, a woman who had nothing to do with drug dealing?
Grandmother Elizabeth Young was not a well woman. She had owned and lived in her Philadelphia house since the 1970s, and in 2006 she bought a 1997 minivan. In late 2009, her son came to the attention of the local drug squad, and in 2012, after he was convicted of a low level offence, the authorities seized her house. Fortunately, after a lengthy legal battle, the Supreme Court Of Philadelphia Eastern District upheld the decision of a lower court and ordered her property be returned to her.
Other cases involving smaller seizures are equally horrifying, as are larger ones.
In December 1988, police in Detroit raided a grocery store looking for drugs, but found none. The dogs they brought with them reacted to three $1 bills in the cash register, so the police seized $4,384 from the registers and the store safe.
In 1992, a woman accused of shoplifting a $25 sweater in Iowa had her $18,000 car seized as a getaway vehicle. It had been specially equipped for her handicapped daughter.
In 1994, a farmer in California accidentally ran his tractor over a protected rat. The tractor was seized. It was worth $50,000 and bought on credit.
If you found that last example funny, the laugh could be on you. Since 9/11, civil asset forfeiture has been ramped up, and recent stories have been horrifying.
Police officers in many states routinely seize at times quite large sums of money from motorists and others for no legitimate reason. To get the money back, the victim has to sue, and if he wins, he still has to pay his legal costs.
There are reasons for this, apart from the bovine mentality of the men and women recruited by police departments. Probably the most important is that the police get to keep a share of the booty.
What has Donald Trump done about this legalised theft? The short answer is nothing. True, he is draining The Swamp, but Trump never has a bad word to say about the police. The last utterance he made that could be considered even slightly disparaging of them was when Terence Crutcher was shot dead by a female officer. Then candidate Trump said only that maybe people like her should not be policing the public. Since then he has done precisely nothing, indeed in his short tenure as Attorney General, Jeff Sessions sought to expand forfeiture.
Fortunately though, others are waking up to this pernicious practice. Last December, a South Carolina judge ruled civil asset forfeiture unconstitutional, and last month, supported by the Institute For Justice, Melisa Ingram of Detroit (pictured) led a class action lawsuit against her county for seizing her vehicle twice. Where are you Donald Trump? One might also ask where are the social justice warriors who riot over trivialities or nothing, who demand immigrants be let into the country en masse and unchecked when their fellow citizens are being abused like this? Obviously they don’t care, and Trump is quite likely oblivious to this tyrannical practice, just as he appears to be oblivious to police brutality.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.