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July 23, 2008 -- Downsize-DC (US)

End Asset Forfeiture

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Original Article:

"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury ... nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." -- Fifth Amendment to the Constitution

Civil asset forfeiture is government seizure of property or cash owned by individuals not charged with any crime. Law enforcement agents can seize a piece of property if they merely suspect it was used in a crime, whereas its owner must prove innocence to get it back.

This is an inversion of justice and a gross violation of the Bill of Rights. But if you think the federal courts will protect innocent property owners, think again ...

* A police dog's sniff of bundles of cash totaling $124,700 was used as sufficient evidence for the government to confiscate the money, even though a large percentage of currency in circulation contains traces of narcotics, and the government couldn't establish how or when the money was used in criminal activity.

* An Ohio man who kept a small amount of medical marijuana and who also kept his life savings in his own home saw the money taken by the FBI -- even though he was never charged with marijuana possession.

* Individuals who consent to police searches can lose money kept in their vehicles -- even where there is no trace of illegal drugs or suspicion of illegal activity.

* A woman charged with illegally selling medical equipment saw her assets frozen by the government, on the grounds that her wealth was from ill-gotten gains - preventing her from hiring adequate council to defend herself, as is her right under the 6th Amendment.

Civil asset forfeiture laws breed conflict-of-interest . . .

* Federal law enforcement seized $1.6 billion last year -- triple the amount four years ago.

* The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives ordered Leathermen toolkits for their agents, engraved with the motto "Always Think Forfeiture." Fortunately, the program was halted thanks to the objection of Rep. Bill Sali, but it expresses the attitude that federal law enforcement agents should put plunder ahead of the interests of justice.

* States seized $1.52 billion in 2007; the State of Texas by itself collected $125 million, and many police department budgets are reliant on forfeiture, or "addicted to drug money." This encourages them to seize the money after drug sales have been made, rather than keeping the drugs away from children -- defeating the nominal purpose of the War on Drugs.

Unfortunately, federal courts have used twisted logic to uphold civil asset forfeitures. They have contended that since the property itself is condemned, and not its owner, norms like "innocent until proven guilty" do not apply.

But if the government can seize your life savings, or your house, or the car you need to get to work, the effective punishment can be as bad or worse than the penalties imposed upon conviction of a crime -- yet the owner of the seized property possesses no due process rights.

Because the courts will not act to end civil asset forfeitures, Congress must. A "compromise" asset forfeiture bill will only lead to more abuses and outrages. Civil asset forfeiture must be abolished. Tell Congress to . . .

* Require full Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendment protection for all federal proceedings against owners of personal property.
* Permit seizures of criminal profits only upon criminal conviction of its owner.
* Permit seizures of legally-owned property only if its owner is convicted of a crime, to pay for fines, court costs, or restitution.
* Withhold federal funds to all state and local law enforcement agencies that engage in civil asset forfeiture.
* Enforce the 14th Amendment's requirement that "no person shall be deprived of ... property, without due process of law" by allowing victims of state and local seizures to contest forfeitures in federal court.

Please send Congress a message telling them you are outraged by civil asset forfeiture and that it must be abolished. You can do so here:

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