Trump wants to reinstate and expand civil asset forfeiture so cops can steal your stuff

Civil asset forfeiture is a perfectly foreseeable outcome of the overbroad War on Drugs: it allows the cops to seize your belongings and charge them -- not you! -- with being the proceeds of a crime. Then it's up to you to figure out how to prove that your cash, car, house, or other belongings are innocent, otherwise the cops get to keep your stuff and use it to fund their operations.

This is especially useful when it comes to amassing budgets to buy things that the cops don't want to ask for in public: that's why Chicago cops stole millions from mostly poor Chicagoans and blew it on surveillance gear (they did this in LA, too). It's hard to see how there'd be a surveillance gear industry without this legalized theft. The NYPD steals so much through forfeiture that it says just adding it up would break their computers (it's even worse in the Bronx).

It's an irresistible temptation. City attorneys invite the town cops to seminars on maximizing the haul of desirable goods, advising the police to keep a wishlist of cars and other material they'd like to steal, so they can be on the lookout for citizens in possession of same to seize from. It got so bad that the CBC issued advice for Canadian to help them avoid being robbed by American cops while on vacation.

The city and state authorities have used stolen funds to lobby against reforms in the forfeiture rules, but their behavior was so egregious that reform was inevitable. States including Montana, New Mexico, California and Nebraska reformed their forfeiture rules, then in 2015 Congress slashed the DoJ's budget, forcing the feds to end their complicity in forfeiture cases.

But Trump's official policy of putting a fox in every henhouse is about to hit forfeiture reform. He told a group of sheriffs that he will "look into" limits on forfeiture, because there is "no reason" for any such limits. He went on to offer to "destroy the career" of a Texas state senator who believed in limits on asset forfeiture.

Senators Konni Burton and Juan Hinojosa both offered statements in response. Here's Burton's (h/t CJ Ciaramella):

I have never met with Sheriff Eavenson, nor even heard of him before yesterday. However, I take exception to his comments on asset forfeiture reform. While I certainly want law enforcement to have the tools necessary to combat large criminal enterprises, we must be vigilant to safeguard the rights of everyday citizens from potential abuse. Do not be mistaken or misled: this is not strictly a law enforcement issue; this is a property rights issue. Property rights are one of the foundational rights in any free society and the taking of property by government is no small matter. Requiring the government to secure a criminal conviction before permanently taking property from citizens is simply commonsense. We would not stand for anything less when it comes to our personal liberty or freedom; why should we allow our property to be taken so easily?

And Hinojosa's:

I do not know and have not met with Sheriff Harold Eavenson of Rockwall County. And quite frankly, I don't pay much attention to what President Trump says anymore. However, the asset forfeiture bills I have authored and co-authored will not interfere with our law enforcement agencies' ability to do their jobs. Instead, these bills are an important protection for Texans' property rights and civil liberties. I have taken an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and Texas and intend to do just that by protecting the rights of people and property.

Trump Says There's 'No Reason' To Scale Back Asset Forfeiture; Threatens Career Of Senator Backing Forfeiture Reform [Tim Cushing/Techdirt]

Notable Replies

  1. If we get a video of someone doing coke in Trump Tower can it be subject to civil forfeiture? Asking for a friend.

  2. Felton says:
  3. While I certainly want law enforcement to have the tools necessary to combat large criminal enterprises, we must be vigilant to safeguard the rights of everyday citizens from potential abuse.

    I would like to point out that the rights of all—literally all—citizens should be safeguarded from abuse by the police. Not just the rights of everyday citizens, whatever those are.

  4. No, no it doesn't. It is nearly 100% corruption. It is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Even if one buys the argument that criminals shouldn't profit from their crimes, people who have not been convicted are not criminals. The Constitution demands the burden of proof be upon the government, not upon a suspect who in many cases turns out to be innocent. Even when the victims are entirely innocent, they have to sue the police to have their property returned. Is it any wonder this rule is never applied to the kind of people who have lawyers at the ready?

  5. I never cease to be impressed by the competence and intellectual honesty of people who think that tweaking capital gains taxes by a couple of points is essentially a communist revolution; but running a program where armed state agents just expropriate whatever they fancy is good old law 'n order.

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