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Asset Forfeiture: Legalized Theft Funding the Police State

Asset forfeiture is a form of legalized theft that serves as a major funding source for the rapidly expanding police state.

Through asset forfeiture, law enforcement agencies can essentially take your money, your house, or any other property you own and keep it unless you can prove your innocence and that your property wasn’t used in a crime – either by you or somebody else.

Asset forfeiture flips due process on its head. When cops seize your property under asset forfeiture laws, they don’t have to prove you guilty. The burden shifts to you. You must got to court and prove your innocence in order to reclaim your property. There are numerous horror stories about innocent people have cash seized simply because they were carrying large amounts of money for perfectly innocent reasons. Cops just assume that anybody with that much cash on them must be involved in illegal drug activity, forcing innocent people to go through a lengthy and expensive process just to get their own money back. Here’s just one example.

Governments rake in an astonishing amount of money through asset forfeiture. In 2012, federal, state and local law enforcement gobbled up more than $4.2 billion in assets. Federal laws, along with most state laws, allow state and local law enforcement agencies to pocket a large chunk of that money. As the Washington Post put it, “asset seizure fuels police spending.”

Police agencies have used hundreds of millions of dollars taken from Americans under federal civil forfeiture law in recent years to buy guns, armored cars and electronic surveillance gear. They have also spent money on luxury vehicles, travel and a clown named Sparkles.

Asset forfeiture money opens the door for police agencies to work outside of the traditional budgeting processing, allowing law enforcement leaders to set their own priorities without any accountability to elected representatives. It also skews policing priorities, incentivizing cops to focus on the “drug war” and other crimes with asset seizure potential, while pulling resources away from investigating violent crimes like murder and rape that don’t offer any financial payoff.

Asset forfeiture also explains why police lobbyists almost always oppose efforts to limit partnerships between state and local law enforcement and federal agencies engaging in warrantless spying. They don’t want to upset their federal partners and stab the lucrative cash-cow.

Both the federal government and the states have asset forfeiture laws. According to US Code 981, Civil Forfeiture, the following property is subject to forfeiture.

Any property, real or personal, involved in a transaction or attempted transaction in violation of money laundering, money obtained from unlawful practices, unlicensed wire or banking transactions.

But that’s not all; property may be seized for crimes against the treasury, banks, post office, and health care. The law also allows forfeiture for crimes including possession or trafficking explosives, illicit drugs, or CBRN weapons, possession of false identification, committing fraud with electronic devices, making false statements and wire fraud.

Seizure of property occurs by 3 ways:

1. By the Attorney General during investigations of crimes against the Treasury and Post Office.
2. With a warrant or without a Warrant if person is under lawful arrest or search, or during a recognized exception to the 4th Amendment (plain view, automobile exceptions.) Or, when “the property was lawfully seized by a State or local law enforcement agency and transferred to a Federal agency.”
3. Due to a fine not paid to a state agency.

Asset forfeiture does not require a conviction A simple interaction with a cop during a traffic stop where the expectation of privacy is lower can lead to asset seizure. Once the state has your assets, you have to fight to get it back. An officer simply spotting materials he thinks are “associated” with drug use or trafficking can lead to seizure, including things such as plastic bags, large amounts of money. Even eye drops, or simple display public grievance can open the door for police to take your stuff.

The Washington Post reports that after the police seize property, a person must spend money on a lawyer and court fees just to get it back.

Of the nearly $2.5 billion in spending reported in the forms, 81 percent came from cash and property seizures in which no indictment was filed, according to an analysis by The Post. Owners must prove that their money or property was acquired legally in order to get it back.

However, asset forfeiture specified in different jurisdictions at either the federal level or the state level is not enough. Local and state law enforcement agencies are encouraged to work with federal agencies so they receive a chunk of the asset forfeiture.

A local or state police agency can seize cash or property under federal law through the Equitable Sharing Program when a federal agency such as the Drug Enforcement Administration or Immigration and Customs Enforcement agrees to adopt the seizure under federal law. Federal agencies generally are allowed to keep 20 percent or more [up to 80%] of the seizure after an adoption…

There have been 61,998 cash seizures on highways and elsewhere since 9/11 without search warrants or indictments and processed through the Equitable Sharing Program, according to an analysis of Justice data obtained by The Post.

Equitable Sharing participants must follow rules contained in a 50-page Equitable Sharing guide that require the proceeds of seizures to be used “by law enforcement agencies for law enforcement purposes only.

Asset forfeiture is sold as a device to stop criminal operations, but instead it has created a criminal operation ran by police and judicial authorities where people are stripped of their property without being found guilty of a crime. Asset forfeiture is in clear violation of the 4th amendment. It’s purpose is instead a mechanism to fuel the militarization of the police and the drug war. It influences local and state police with tight budgets to work with federal agencies to supplement their budget with your property.

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