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Civil Asset Forfeiture

If you’re not familiar with what civil asset forfeiture, let me fill you in because it’s pretty bad. Civil asset forfeiture is an Orwellian term that refers to the government taking your stuff and keeping it. This  isn’t a new thing. It’s been around for centuries, but the Reagan and Bush 2.0 administrations put it on steroids. Civil asset forfeiture is when cops of any flavor (state, or local) find your stuff during a search, and keep in. It doesn’t matter if you’re guilty of anything.

So let me walk you through it with a scenario. Your house is a suspected meth lab, and the police successfully manage to get a warrant to search your house. So the cops come in, search your house and find nothing related to meth production, or any illegal activity drug or otherwise because they got the wrong house. But they do find $50,000 in cash under the floorboard in your kitchen. There’s no more reason to believe that you obtained the cash illegally, as there is to believe you’re a paranoid survivalist who doesn’t trust the banks. But the reason for the cash being under the floorboard is irrelevant. It could have been in a safe in your bedroom. The police can just take it. This is called "civil asset forfeiture", not to be confused with "criminal asset forfeiture". Criminal asset forfeiture would be if they found the money and the meth lab in your house in which case, your stuff is clearly a product of your criminal activity, and that’s why they’re taking it. I think that the fact that they actually have a different term for when they take your stuff when you’re not a criminal is pretty telling.

We haven’t gotten to the really outrageous part yet. When cops take your stuff, you have virtually no hope of getting it back. In a civil asset forfeiture case, the state proceeds with a case against your stuff. The cases are actually against the money so United States vs. $32,820.56 is an actual case. You can read about the case here. Or there’s the comical sounding United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins. Nope, I’m not making that one up either. Because the case is against the stuff, you’re a third party who is tasked with proving that your stuff is innocent of all criminal involvement. I’m not kidding. Proving that your stuff is "innocent" can be difficult and expensive. You have to spend money on a lawyer to prove that your money wasn’t gotten through criminal means.

As if all of that weren’t bad enough, the government is incentivized to take your stuff. Police forces all across the country actually add your stuff to their budgets because they want to buy nice things for themselves with it. Did I mention that they get to split the proceeds with the federal government? This is a lovely practice called, "equitable sharing". Since 9/11, local and state cops have equitably shared 2.5 billion dollars from just motorists and warantless searches. So if you get pulled over because a cop thought he smelled marijuana coming out of your car, and finds $20,000 in cash while unsuccessfully searching for the pot, the cop gets to take the cash. Let me rephrase that; the cop needs to take the cash because his police force is holding a fundraiser to buy that up armored hmmwv that they need in case peaceful protests break out in their town of 6,000 residents.

The Supreme Court actually gave their blessing on all of this in 1996 in a lovely case, Bennis v Michigan. This one is really going to steam your beans. Detroit police arrested John Bennis after observing him engaging in sexual activity in his car, with a prostitute. The state subsequently decided that they wanted to take the car that this heinous crime was committed in cause, you know, fundraiser! Anyway, Mrs Bennis challenged the forfeiture because she was a co-owner of the car and her life was already fucked up enough by learning that her husband was paying for hookers, that she didn’t need to lose a car on top of everything else. Well, Tina Bennis got to experience the joy of being reminded of her husband and the hooker for years, as the case worked its way up to the Supreme Court. The conservative Rehnquist court agreed that the state had a right to take the car. By the way, the dissenters were Ginsberg, Stevens, Souter, and Breyer. You know, the liberals plus Stevens. But I digress. Why an

I writing a piece about civil asset forfeiture now? Because that fascist jack booted thug, Eric Holder has barred local and state police forces from taking your stuff except in a few cases. He carved out some exceptions for illegal firearms, ammunition, explosive devices, and property associated with child pornography. This is the only move I can think of that has ever actually reigned in government in my lifetime. If anyone can think of anyone else, please share because I can’t think of any.

The irony is that this nearly unheard of shrinking of government powers was done by a jack booted thug, appointed by an America-hating Kenyan usurper. Both democrats who did the opposite of what two republican presidents did. That’s right, Reagan and Bush 2.0 made civil forfeiture the new black during their presidencies cause, "war on drugs!" and "terrorists!"

Yes republicans, the "small government" you so cherish is being given to you, in the only form it’s ever been brought to you, by a democratic administration. The odd thing is that I haven’t seen any right wing media outlets cheering for this. Strange.               











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