US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions apparently doesn't understand the meaning of "innocent until proven guilty".
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Justice Department will issue new directives to increase the federal govenment's use of civil asset forfeiture, a controversial practice that allows law enforcement to seize property from suspected criminals without charging them with a crime.
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Asset forfeiture became a prized hammer in law enforcement's tool chest in the 1980s, when the government was struggling to combat organized drug cartels. Law enforcement groups say the laws allow them to disrupt drug trafficking operations by targeting their proceeds—cars, cash, and guns.
However, the practice has exploded since then, and civil liberties groups and political advocacy organizations, both liberal and conservative, say the perverse profit incentives and lack of due process for property owners lead to far more average citizens having their property seized than cartel bosses.
The Justice Department plays a huge role in asset forfeiture through its Equitable Sharing Program, which allows state and local police to have their forfeiture cases "adopted" by the federal government. The feds take over the case, and the seized money is put into the equitable sharing pool. In return, the department gets up to 80 percent of those funds back. The equitable sharing program distributes hundreds of millions of dollars a year to police departments around the country.
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Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), a consistent Republican advocate for reforming asset forfeiture laws, said in a statement to Reason Monday: "As Justice Thomas has previously said, there are serious constitutional concerns regarding modern civil asset forfeiture practices. The Department has an obligation to consider due process constraints in crafting its civil asset forfeiture policies."
Lee was referring to conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' notable dissent in an asset forfeiture case this June. Thomas wrote that forfeiture operations "frequently target the poor and other groups least able to defend their interests in forfeiture proceedings."
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A 2014 Washington Post investigative series found that warrantless police seizures of cash through the equitable sharing program have boomed since 9/11, hauling in $2.5 billion. Also in 2014, for the first time ever, the U.S. government seized more property from Americans than burglars did.
There's more at the link.
The whole problem with civil asset forfeiture is that it requires the citizen to prove a negative - i.e. to prove that the asset(s) in question are not the result of criminal activity. Trouble is, in courts of law, the normal standard is that the prosecution has to prove its claims. It's not up to the defendant to disprove them - rather, the defendant has only to show that the prosecution's claims are impossible, or untrue, or unprovable due to alternative explanations of fact. The prosecution can't simply claim, "You're a thief/murderer/whatever", and expect the defendant to prove them wrong. However, that's precisely the logic behind civil asset forfeiture. The State makes the claim, and then - without having to prove it - proceeds to confiscate the asset(s) that it alleges were financed through the claimed illegal activity. Their owner must then prove that the State is wrong before he or she can reclaim the asset(s) - at his or her expense. Many can't afford that expense.
This is immoral on a fundamental level. It removes the burden of proof from the authorities, and places it on the individual. It's not justice - it's the antithesis of justice. If the asset(s) are confiscated after the defendant has been found guilty of a crime by a jury of his or her peers, that's one thing. To just take them, without any legal justification whatsoever, is as much a crime as the misdeeds of which their owner may be suspected or accused.
I hope and pray enough of us will make enough of a fuss to get rid of civil asset forfeiture once and for all.