From Right to Left – A Call for Reform of Civil Assett Forfeiture

civil asset forfeiture paved with good intentions

“This system—where police can seize property with limited judicial oversight and retain clarence_thomas_u_s_supreme_court_justiceit for their own use—has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses. These forfeiture operations frequently target the poor and other groups least able to defend their interests in forfeiture proceedings.” – Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

From the Heritage Foundation on the Right to the American Civil Liberties Union on the left come urgent calls for civil asset forfeiture law reform.

From the Right

“Civil asset forfeiture is based on a fiction, albeit one of ancient lineage, that property can be guilty of a crime and thereby forfeited to the sovereign regardless of whether any individual is ever charged with (and much less convicted of) a crime related to that property. It is a fiction because things obviously cannot think or act, but there is a laudable goal behind this fiction: the development of a means to deprive criminals of the fruits of their nefarious labor, sometimes in cases where it may be clear that particular property was used in a crime, but where the “kingpin”—be it a drug dealer, fraudster, foreign kleptocrat, or terrorist—is impossible to identify or is outside the United States, and to use some of those funds to compensate the victims of crime… in many instances, what began as a means to a laudable end has become an end in itself.” – John Malcolm, The Heritage Foundation, 20 April 2015

From the Left

“Police abuse of civil asset forfeiture laws has shaken our nation’s conscience. Civil forfeiture allows police to seize — and then keep or sell — any property they allege is involved in a crime. Owners need not ever be arrested or convicted of a crime for their cash, cars, or even real estate to be taken away permanently by the government.

Forfeiture was originally presented as a way to cripple large-scale criminal enterprises by diverting their resources. But today, aided by deeply flawed federal and state laws, many police departments use forfeiture to benefit their bottom lines, making seizures motivated by profit rather than crime-fighting. For people whose property has been seized through civil asset forfeiture, legally regaining such property is notoriously difficult and expensive, with costs sometimes exceeding the value of the property.” – American Civil Liberties Union

Public Opinion Agrees with the Left and the Right

“Eighty-four percent (84%) of Americans oppose civil asset forfeiture–police “taking a person’s money or property that is suspected to have been involved in a drug crime before the person is convicted of a crime,” according to a new Cato Institute/YouGov survey of 2,000 Americans. Only 16% think police ought to be allowed to seize property before a person is convicted.” – The Cato Institute, 13 December 2016

The Opposition: Law Enforcement Agencies

James Mclaughlin, executive director of the Police Chiefs Association said, “We oppose really all changes to asset forfeiture. We always do.”

The governor did not sign into law Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform.

Weighing Cost vs. Benefits of Civil Asset Forfeiture

Greg Glod, a senior policy analyst with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, said there is no data that shows that seizing assets has put a huge dent in drug cartel operations.

“If you look at how much money has actually been forfeited, it seems like a

COST VS BENEFITS
Loss of Liberty has no benefits

lot, but when you average cash that’s forfeited, it’s generally from $0 to $5,000,” he said. “And overall, it’s only in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and we know how much drug cartel money actually comes through here. So it really has not, from those statistics, done a lot to actually disrupt cartel members and their drug-trafficking organizations.”

Follow the Money

  • District attorneys across Texas in 2016 were in court fighting for more than $55 million in seized cash to be forfeited to the state, according to reports counties submitted to the Attorney General’s office.
  • At the end of 2016, district attorneys statewide had a total balance of more than $36 million in forfeited money, according to reports counties submitted to the Attorney General’s office.

Legislative Actions

The 2017 Texas Legislature took up the issue by proposing bills to eliminate the practice of Civil Asset Forfeiture. State Senator Konni Burton (R-Fort Worth) introduced SB 380 and State Representative Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) put forward HB 1394 on this matter.

I will work for a constitutional amendment to the U.S. Constitution by way of a Convention of States and an amendment to the Texas Constitution through our 2019 Texas Legislature.

John White
Rockwall, Texas

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