Police and prosecutors are using the same law that allows the IRS to seize thousands of dollars from innocent working Americans to confiscate thousands of dollars worth of property.
In fact, citizens don’t even need to be arrested or charged with a crime for authorities to steal their belongings.
“Civil asset forfeiture,” as the New York Times describes it, “allows the government, without ever securing a conviction or filing a criminal charge, to seize property suspected of having ties to crime.”
Often, these “forfeitures” are sold, with proceeds going in part to local police forces.
The scope of this practice expanded with the Drug War in the 1980s and in 2012 alone, $4.3 billion worth of assets was confiscated. This was a huge uptick from 2001, which saw $401 million taken by the state.
Both law enforcement and city prosecutors happily engage in this practice. The Times reported on seminars given to maximize profits and acquisitions.
Prosecutors advise cops not to bother with jewelry (“too hard to dispose of”) or computers (“everybody’s got one already”). They suggested flat screen TVs, money, and cars–especially nice cars.
In one video, Harry S. Connelly, city attorney in Las Cruces, New Mexico beamed about his power:
“We could be czars… We could own the city. We could be in the real estate business.”
Police and prosecutors have applied this mentality to a wide range of increasing offenses. While usual drug policy saw a family’s entire home forfeited after their son allegedly sold $40 worth of heroin, for example, authorities are stretching their reach.
Civil asset forfeiture has expanded to apply to drunk drivers, individuals picking up prostitutes, or people having “suspected connections” to terrorists. Illinois just made seizing boats acceptable under its D.W.I. laws and in Mercer County, New Jersey, cars can be seized for shoplifting and statutory rape.
“At the grass-roots level–cities, counties–they continue to be interested, perhaps increasingly so, in supplementing their budgets with the type of seizures that we’ve seen in Philadelphia and elsewhere.”
These recently revealed, controversial seminars explain the technicalities of seizing property, including how to deal with skeptical judges. In a Georgia seminar, a prosecutor bragged about rolling back a Republican-led project to reform civil forfeiture. The money had been used by authorities to buy sports tickets, a home security system, a $90,000 sports car and to fund office parties.
Sean D. McCurtry, who runs the forfeiture unit in Mercer County, defended his department in a public interview. However, in a closed seminar, he made it clear that “forfeitures were contingent on the needs of law enforcement.”
“If you want the car, and you really want to put it in your fleet, let me know–I’ll fight for it… If you don’t let me know that, I’ll try and resolve it real quick through a settlement and get cash for the car, get the tow fee paid off, get some money for it.”
Prosecutors have also boasted in seminars about how difficult it is for citizens to protest the theft of their property. Because of the court fees and legal costs, it is nearly impossible to maintain accountability against those who take private property.
Though police and prosecutors defend the practice of civil asset forfeiture, especially as it has come under intense fire, it is difficult to believe their motives are moral or intended to better society. Rather, they demonstrate the typical nature of government: to exploit and harass for selfish pursuit of power, profit and control.
As Harry S. Connelly explained in a private seminar,
“A guy drives up in a 2008 Mercedes, brand new. Just so beautiful, I mean, the cops were undercover and they were just like ‘Ahhhh.’ And he gets out and he’s just reeking of alcohol. And it’s like ‘Oh, my goodness, we can hardly wait.’”
By Carey Wedler, The Anti Media;
In the following ‘Last Week Tonight’ excerpt, John Oliver explains in a funny and more bearable way this “legalized robbery” that is taking place all across the US: