OPINION – Power-addicts pose a greater threat to us than the strung-out junkie, none more so than government officials, like U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s policy orders last week increasing government’s power to seize people’s cash and property. These addicts feed their habit while trampling the rights of the American people without due process.
Addiction is an awful thing. As the addict becomes consumed with indulging his habit at any cost, there’s almost nothing he can’t justify in order to feed his all-consuming need. With his conscience dulled, he’ll betray trusts, steal and commit criminal acts upon the people who are most anxiously depending on him to do the right thing. The addict might even convince some people that what he’s doing is for their benefit.
While everything I’ve just written could be applied to the chronic substance abuser, I’m actually talking about those individuals who are addicted to power at every level of government.
Sessions is one of those. America’s attorney general is encouraging the practice of legal theft by ordering federal agencies to more aggressively pursue asset forfeiture. We’ve all been assured that asset forfeiture is about preventing drug lords and criminals from enjoying the obscene profits of their trade by taking away their valuables.
If this is true, why are those valuables being forfeited before a conviction has been obtained?
It’s one thing to prevent someone from profiting from criminal acts when they’ve been afforded due process and convicted of a crime. Taking the property of innocent people is something else.
Isn’t there a term for when an armed individual informs you that he’s taking your valuables, or else? Don’t overthink this. A state-issued costume doesn’t change the nature of what’s happening.
The dictionary defines “theft” as a “criminal act in which property belonging to another is taken without that person’s consent.” The word “theft” may seem harsh when referring to asset forfeiture, but it fits.
What else should we call it when those who are supposed to be protecting the populace from predatory behavior instead steal from us under the guise of fighting crime?
Civil asset forfeiture lets law enforcement seize and sell property they assert has been involved in criminal activity. In essence, the property itself is considered guilty until the owner has proven its innocence to the government’s satisfaction.
This means your money, your car, home or other valuable items can be taken from you without you having been charged with – much less convicted of – a crime.
A handful of states have enacted laws requiring that authorities first obtain a conviction before taking a person’s property through forfeiture. However, at the federal level, officials have provided a convenient loophole to encourage states to continue seizing property without due process.
Local and state law enforcement in those states that have restricted asset forfeiture are encouraged to do an end run around state laws by handing over cash they’ve confiscated to the Federal Equitable Sharing Program.
Under this partnership, the feds keep roughly 20 percent of the forfeited money, and up to 80 percent of the cash is returned to the state where the cash was seized. Of course, these states could choose to obey their own laws and, in so doing, cut the feds completely out of the seizure loop.
So why don’t they? Perhaps the states have their own power addiction.
According to the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice’s recent report on asset forfeiture, in 2016, Utah law enforcement took $1.4 million in cash and property. Ninety percent of the time, the forfeiture cases were filed in civil court where a person’s guilt or innocence didn’t matter.
Seven out of 10 of those cases ended up as default judgments. This means that the defendants either chose not to or couldn’t afford to answer the complaints.
Good attorneys don’t come cheaply.
The majority of these forfeitures were the result of traffic stops. Law enforcement in Utah took cash or property from people 400 times last year. Though criminal charges were filed in 93 percent of those cases, only 234 people were found guilty of any crime.
That’s a lot of people whose property was taken without being convicted of any criminal wrongdoing. The innocent only saw their property returned in 6 percent of those cases, and even then, they only got back an average of 46 percent of what was taken from them.
If this was really about taking down drug king pins and criminal syndicates, why was the average cash forfeiture barely over a thousand dollars? One would think the big players at whom we’re told this practice is aimed would have more than chump change.
Unless, of course, this practice is really being directed at the populace instead.
Let that sink in.
Innocent people had their property taken without their consent by armed representatives of the state. Had they resisted, they would have been instantly subjected to escalating levels of potentially lethal violence until they submitted.
Just like in an armed robbery.
Power is a dangerous drug and those most addicted to it are currently wreaking havoc on what remains of our freedoms. Due process must be strictly observed to protect the innocent from officially sanctioned predatory practices.
Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events viewed through the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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