I recently touched on civil forfeiture concerns as a tangent to the security of your bank accounts from government seizure. The abyss goes deeper when we add in “equitable sharing” regulations, but there is a solid solution.
Civil forfeiture is a big business for the federal and local governments. Counting only the IRS seizures from 2012 to 2014, they grabbed $17 million from citizens who were never charged with any crime. If we zoom out and look at a larger data set, DEA seizures over the last decade, the government raked in $3.2 BILLION from citizens who were never charged with a crime.
Wow! That’s a hefty revenue stream without even dealing with elections or fighting to raise new taxes. They just see it, claim a suspicion that you are up to no good, and it’s theirs! Does this count as taxation without representation, because our country was founded by folks who rebelled against their government for that sort of abuse.
Law Enforcement Tool?
Some states have been working to clamp down on this sort of abuse of their citizens, and have passed tougher laws and regulations to rein in local law enforcement. The criticism of this trend is that it hampers police in their work to keep our streets safe. I understand that there are many honest cops out there, who just want to succeed in getting crime off the streets and behind bars. But a founding principle of our country was “Innocent until proven guilty.” But with these civil forfeiture cases, the individual has already been punished without a court hearing or conviction, and must then sue in court in order to prove innocence; the situation is then “Guilty until proven innocent.”
When our laws can no longer tell the difference between a criminal engaged in wrongdoing and an innocent citizen going about his daily and legal business, then we have abandoned our own US Constitution and deserve the tyranny that follows.
For example, read “Against the Writs of Assistance” by James Otis, dated 24 FEB 1761. Here’s the setting:
The “Writs of Assistance” were general warrants allowing officials to search for smuggled material within any suspected premises. James Otis was Advocate-General when the legality of these warrents was attacked, but promptly resigned his office when called upon to defend that legality… In a five-hour speech, which was witnessed by a young John Adams, Otis argued that the writs were unconstitutional. He based his case on the rights guaranteed in English common law.
Otis goes on to detail the petty tyranny by which some officials used this law enforcement tool to get revenge on others.
So, British law enforcement had the ability to walk into any man’s house at any time and search the place. I mean, what did they have to hide, if they were following the law, right? If you’re thinking, “That would be a great law enforcement tool and we could ensure much safer neighborhoods…” then you are the reason why American ideals are dying out; trading freedom for security. I want the criminals caught and punished too, but we are not North Korea.
Enter Equitable Sharing
So the local government is cracking down on civil forfeiture, what’s a dedicated LEO to do? Call the Feds!
Under the regulations of “Federal Equitable Sharing” the local law enforcement could call in the Feds to make the property seizure, and the Feds would then hand back to local law enforcement up to 80% of what they seized.
Let’s look at a map of how this goes nowadays in America, and consider a specific actual example. But before you look at the map and start making judgments, ask yourself “In which of the following locales would you rather live?”:
- A local area with weak laws vulnerable to government abusing citizens, but moral character such that the local government never commits such abuse
- A local area with tough laws to protect citizens from government abuse, but moral character such that the local government finds every loophole possible and frequently abuses their citizens.
Personally, I prefer the first one. When the people are of good character, we can work to fix the laws. In the latter case, if the people in government are of bad moral character, no amount of well written laws will be enough to protect you from your government.
Here is the map by Institute for Justice grading and ranking the 50 states on how their laws and practices:
Wow. North Dakota is highlighted by mouse-over in the screen cap here. They got a grade of “F” on their laws, while sunny California got a “C+”. And we’re always talking about the superiority of the American Redoubt, but the three main states (ID/MT/WY) all got “D-“. So CA is superior?
Not so fast. Notice that even though ND got an F on its laws, it ranks #2 out of 50. In other words, it is the second-best state to live in if you don’t want your stuff grabbed by the Feds and LEO’s. If you go to the linked source above and mouse over the Redoubt states, you’ll find the following:
- ID= #8
- MT= #11
- WY= #3
Meanwhile, CA places dead last at 50 out of 50. How does that work, when their laws score C+? Let’s look at the example.
An Actual Case
In 2012 Tony Jalali owned an office building in Anaheim, CA valued at $1.5 million. One of his many tenants was a medical marijuana dispensary. Medical marijuana had been legal under CA law since 1996. However, local law enforcement decided they needed some fat revenue.
A local LEO entered the medical marijuana dispensary undercover, posing as a patient with a legitimate doctor’s recommendation, and bought 4 grams of marijuana for $37.
Nothing at this point was illegal under local laws up to the state level. Tony Jalali himself had never bought or sold marijuana, and state law also prohibited civil forfeiture of real property without a criminal conviction. What could possibly go wrong?
The local LEO department reached out to the Feds under “equitable sharing.” Under Federal Law, medical marijuana was still considered illegal, and the Feds had no restrictions on seizing real property under civil asset forfeiture. In fact, until recently the form submitted to the Feds by local LEO’s included an option listing ‘inadequate state forfeiture laws’ as a justification for requesting federal involvement. State laws too tough? Never fear, that’s good enough reason to ask the Feds to step in, since they are not hampered by all those citizen-protecting state laws!
So the Feds simply declared Tony’s office building forfeit. The fact that it is a CIVIL charge rather than criminal means that no conviction is required, and the local LEO department stood to receive a payout of up to $1.2 million from the Feds. That will buy a lot of new cop cars and gear!
Tony Jalali had never committed a crime, was not in violation of any state laws, was never charged with a crime, and state law protected his property from seizure. But he still had to spend a year fighting in court before the local government agreed to drop the case and let him have his property back, what without having committed any crimes and all.
So much for California’s tough civil forfeiture laws!
Here you see how even with tougher laws on the books to protect the citizens, the moral character from which local government people are elected or selected is the more powerful factor.
I already pointed out my preference for living among good moral character, even if the laws need some work. As a particular example from the Redoubt, consider that Idaho’s legislature recently passed an improvement on civil asset forfeiture with strong bi-partisan support.
Sadly, the governor vetoed the bill after the legislative session ended for the year, calling it a solution in search of a problem, and writing that overwhelming support from the legislature is cancelled out by law enforcement concerns. Translation: he’s in the pocket of LEO special interest groups. Conclusion: a governor is far easier to replace than a whole legislature. Better to have a legislature with both parties interested in defending constitutional rights, than a governor in favor and one or both parties in the legislature opposed or uncaring.
If you live someplace like CA were they tend to legally seize your property regardless of the laws protecting you, then the best solution is to move someplace where the laws are not abused even if they are currently worded in a manner that might allow abuse. If you mouse over many states in the linked resource, you’ll find that many of the most secure states where people’s stuff is rarely taken often also have some of the weakest laws. Just goes to show that the law doesn’t matter as much as the character of your neighbors!