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Pillage People Plot to Increase Asset Seizures

Monday July 24th, 2017   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 10:10am PDT   •  

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions seeks a “new directive on asset forfeiture” and plans new policies to “increase forfeitures.” The target is supposedly big-time criminal organizations but all citizens have good cause to be wary. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas notes, the issue is “whether modern civil-forfeiture statutes can be squared with the Due Process Clause and our nation’s history.” Due process is not served when police can grab people’s assets without charging them with a crime, and according to Thomas, forfeiture operations “frequently target the poor and other groups least able to defend their interests in forfeiture proceedings.”

Previous Attorney General Loretta Lynch, called asset forfeiture “a wonderful tool,” prompting Casey Harper of the Daily Caller to cite some wonderful examples. Tan Nguyen won $50,000 at a casino but a Nevada cop confiscated the money and threatened to seize his car if he spoke up about it. Nguyen had to hire an attorney to get his own $50,000 back. On a trip to buy a car, George Reby had $22,000 in cash but a Tennessee cop suspected it was drug money and took it. In similar style, at a traffic stop Georgia police grabbed Alda Gentile’s $11,530 after searching her car for drugs and finding none. And so on. As Akil Alleyne, notes in The Hill, “perhaps the most worrisome aspect of asset forfeiture is the mercenary incentive that it gives authorities to ‘police for profit’: seizing as much property as possible—the more valuable, the better—in order to auction it off and pad their budgets with the proceeds.”

Asset forfeiture remains rampant in Illinois, not exactly a model of fiscal responsibility. As Ben Ruddell of the ACLU observes, between 2005 and 2015 Illinois law enforcement took in more than $319 million through forfeiture, with little of the haul from drug kingpins. A reform bill places the burden raises the standard of proof to preponderance of evidence at trial, and the burden of proof is on the government, not the property owner. The bill enjoys bipartisan support, and with the federal pillage people planning a surge, Congress should craft an even tougher bill to protect property rights and preserve due process. President Trump should sign it, and that would be a win for the people.

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July 2017