We continued our Conservative Small Talk series on The Refinery this week with a focus on Civil Asset Forfeiture. In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it means a government entity – like the IRS or a Sheriff’s Department – can seize your cash, your home, your car, or any other assets they like if they suspect that the assets have been used or obtained in the commission of a crime. In many places, they don’t have to prove that you did anything wrong in order to take and keep your assets. Regardless of the outcome, in many jurisdictions the agency or department gets to keep some or all of the assets they seize in this manner, giving them greater incentives to confiscate assets regardless of the circumstances.
How does this even happen in the United States?
Well, federal officials decided to use these laws against drug kingpins initially. The idea was that a drug kingpin whose assets had been seized shouldn’t be able to continue to operate his narcotics empire while on trial. So with reckless disregard for the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, agencies like the DEA began swallowing up boats, cars, homes, cash – anything they could find that was potentially tied to drugs. What’s more, the DEA got to use those assets to fund some of their operations. And other agencies quickly followed suit. When banking rules required IRS notification of deposits totaling more than $10,000, the IRS began scouring bank records to find patterns of deposits under $10k, calling it ‘structuring deposits’ in order to avoid reporting requirements.
As it stands now, many agencies don’t have to prove a case or bring charges in order to keep confiscated property. A person whose property is taken has to prove the property innocent, instead of the government being required to make a case.
- It amounts to legalized theft.
- It’s a clear violation of the right to due process.
- Many cases are textbook examples of unreasonable seizures.
- The entire concept creates perverse incentives for the government to seize property.
But what can one person do about this?
Just today we saw the IRS drop a case against a convenience store owner because of public pressure. The Washington Free Beacon reported it this way (emphasis mine):
After learning that the details of the case had been given to a congressional committee, (federal prosecutor)West wrote to McLellan’s attorney in an email: “Whoever made [the document] public may serve their own interest but will not help this particular case. Your client needs to resolve this or litigate it. But publicity about it doesn’t help. It just ratchets up feelings in the agency. My offer is to return 50 percent of the money. The offer is good until March 30th COB.”
McLellan did not accept the offer, and as a result, he will get 100 percent of his money back. However, McLellan still had to pay for a lawyer, not to mention $19,000 to have his business audited. The government also refuses to pay for interest earned on money after it has been seized. The Institute for Justice said it will continue to litigate McLellan’s case.
They can’t stand this sort of publicity – things got resolved pretty quickly with some attention drawn to the case. And that’s just the kind of thing we can help with.
As I mentioned in my last piece when I talked about feeding ordinances, these sorts of issues have very broad appeal, and can help us find common ground with folks who don’t think about politics all the time. We discuss how in both of the videos we clipped this week:
Join us in the fight against civil asset forfeiture (and prepare the ground for 2016 and beyond in the process):
- Learn about cases – there are thousands of people whose stories need to be told
- Get the word out by talking to apolitical people in your circle
- Offer to send them more information
- Circulate petitions on the issue to legislators and governors and Congress using social media
And if you need a refresher on the general concept, you can review the steps for Conservative Small Talk HERE. We really can plant seeds and influence public opinion every day with issues like these. And we believe it’s imperative that we do.
Civil Asset Forfeiture Resources:
Young Black Man’s Cash Seized by DEA
Nebraska Veteran’s Cash Seized
IRS Seizes Convenience Store Owner’s Life Savings
What is Asset Forfeiture? Explaining it to everyone:
Other Helpful Links: