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The U.S. Department of Injustice and its Forfeiture Laws

By Larry Bolain Sr., Prisoner of War in America

The widespread confiscation of private property by the U.S. government without so much as a trial is a violation of citizens' rights and law reminiscent of the social terrorism practiced by the former Soviet Union. Under Civil Forfeiture statutes passed by Congress in the 1980's, the Federal government now has the ability to seize real estate, securities, cash, vehicles, jewelry and most property. The government need not prove that the assets were bought with the proceeds of illegal drug sales, but, that it was used, or was intended to be used in a crime. The statutes were left vague and ambiguous for good reason-the exact meaning can be tailored to fit any situation the government chooses to apply them to. Federal prosecutors now have more authority over a case than do the Federal judges themselves.

When these tactics were first initiated, Federal judges across the country declared them unconstitutional and protested the ways in which the new statutes were being used. Scores of judges refused to try cases because of the unconstitutionality. Those very same magistrates who stood up for the rights of the people, and our Constitution were soon shunned by their constituents. Federal courtrooms have turned into political platforms which U.S. Attorneys use for their own political agendas. A barrage of government misinformation has followed and those Judges who speak out are labeled "soft on crime."

Constitutional protections have been buried under a facade of slogans:

Let's get tough on crime!

Just Say No!

Zero Tolerance!

Three Strikes - You're out!

In the midst of the frenzy, the public was not able to see what was actually happening to their Bill of Rights. Federal prosecutors now have an extraordinary amount of power. The illustrations are endless. An entire farm can be seized if so much as one marijuana plant is found growing there. According to Steven B. Duke, a professor of Yale, a house can be seized and forfeited if it contains so much as a book on marijuana cultivation. The Supreme Court has upheld that the government can seize property even when its owner had no involvement or knowledge of the crime that was committed.

The legal cost of proving the burden of innocence falls upon the former owner, as seized property becomes the property of the government. Most people lack the resources to prove their innocence.

In 1994 assets worth about $1.5 billion were forfeited to the government and in almost 80% of those cases the owners of the property were never charged with a crime. Wealthy accused often surrender property rather than face long prison sentences. Plea negotiations can now resemble haggling sessions worthy of Third World fish markets.

The proceeds of asset forfeiture are divided among the law enforcement agencies involved in a case, a policy that clearly results in abuse of power. Former U.S. Department of Justice officials have admitted that many forfeiture cases are driven by the need to meet budget projections. The guilt or innocence of a person is often less important than the value of his or her assets.

In California, 31 state and federal agents raided Donald P. Scott's Malibu ranch on the pretext that marijuana was growing there. The raid took place in the dark of night and Mr. Scott was shot and killed when he stumbled out of bed and protested. Mr. Scott thought that it was a robbery attempt. No evidence of marijuana cultivation was found. The ranch was worth $5 million dollars and it was discovered that agents had been motivated by a desire to seize the ranch-an appraisal had been obtained before the raid. No one was charged in Mr. Scott's death because the courts found that the agents had acted on "good faith."

In New Jersey, Nicholas L. Bissell Jr., a local prosecutor known as "The Forfeiture King," helped an associate buy land seized in a marijuana case for a small fraction of its market value.

In Connecticut, Leslie C. Ohta, a Federal prosecutor known as "The Forfeiture Queen," seized the home of Paul and Ruth Derbacher when their grandson was arrested for keeping marijuana there. The Derbacher's were in their eighties and had no idea their was marijuana on their property. Ms. Ohta insisted that people ought to know what goes on in their own homes. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Ohta's son was arrested for selling LSD from her Chevy Blazer. He had also been selling marijuana out of her home in Glastonburg. She was transferred out of the forfeiture unit, but strangely, neither her Blazer nor her home were seized by the U.S. government.

The injustices of "The War on Drugs" are manifest in every aspect of the war itself. Media hype and slogans have been marketed to the American public. Know this, even as you read this, legislation is being written that will strip you of more rights. Are you going to allow the injustices to go even further? Just say, "No!"

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