Associate Justice Clarence Thomas stood up for freedom by denouncing civil forfeiture, which enables authorities to freely seize property from US citizens—including those with a clean record. “This system has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses,” Justice Thomas wrote.
When a US Justice makes that sort of statement, it’s heavily obvious our civil rights are in danger. Fortunately, a leader is calling for reform of civil forfeiture. With Justice Thomas having ignited freedom’s fury cannon, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Representative Tim Wahlberg navigated the hit in the form of the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act (FAIR). Their ammo could drastically and crucially alter this federal law in the name of US’s Fifth Amendment. (Courts would still have the power to mandate that criminal-based money and property are handed over.)
This unjust legislation first reared its head back in the ’80s—drugs were plaguing North America. To fight them, Congress passed a bill enabling federal authorities to easily collect cash, automobiles, and people’s houses! On top of that, Congress motivated these action via monetary rewards in the form of federal authorities having the right to sell it at auctions and keep every, last cent from the sale(s)—or the seized property was theirs to utilize as they saw fit. Prior to that little motivator, forfeiture proceeds went directly to the US Treasury’s General Fund.
The Institute for Justice availed that from 1986 to 2014, the Justice Department’s Assets Forfeiture Fund went from nearly $94 million to a whopping $4.5 billion! (An entire essay could be written on that alone!)
Don’t forget about Congress’s other, ’80s-born incentive—“equitable sharing.” Through that little leech, both state and local authorities get their share of lifeblood too. That’s right; cops and lawyers can loophole state rules and work with federal authorities obtain property legally. Should everything go accordingly for them, state and local legislators can acquire 80 percent of the returns.
Recently, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) discovered the Justice Department has siphoned off over $6 billion in equitable-sharing funds to city and state officials/authorities from the start of this millennium! According to multiple authorities, the “primary reason” equitable sharing is their go-to is mainly that “their states’ forfeiture laws restrict law enforcement’s use of forfeiture.”
This bounty-hunter system has truly twisted authorities (on all levels) into seemingly profiteering gluttons.
Case in point: Mr. Russ Caswell fell victim to this. His had owned and operated the Tewksbury (MA)-based Motel Caswell since 1955. However, local authorities saw his fully owned $1.5-million-valued small business as an equitable-sharing opportunity.
[Video: courtesy of Institute for Justice]
Outcome: the Institute for Justice discovered a federal agent was sifting through records, intentionally looking for a money-maker case. More, upon doing a pro-bono solid for Russ, the Caswells won—Russ safely sold his business and retired. (BAM!)
However, The Caswells are just one victory out of infinitely many injustices. The Washington Post uncovered more than 60,000 cash-only civil forfeitures—the cops put nothing on the books. The majority of these incidents fell upon African-Americans, Hispanics and the like.
In order to eradicate these things from happening, the FAIR Act is crucial. Precedently, this act can ultimately destroy equitable sharing and relocate any/all forfeiture returns to the US Treasury’s General Fund. These revisions will terminate the bounty-hunter system.
To solidify the Fifth Amendment in due process, the FAIR Act guarantees all civil-forfeiture individuals get legal representation—including the philosophy of innocent until proven otherwise. Currently, property owners are responsible for availing evidence, which basically protects law enforcement and officials—a corrupted 180.
Among other things, the FAIR bill’s bipartisan and bicameral—everyone wins. An array of organizations (including the ACLU, Heritage Action, NACDL, Campaign for Liberty, Americans for Tax Reform, Drug Policy Alliance, Freedom Works and the Institute for Justice) have coalesced in this effort to push the FAIR Act into law. (How often does everyone win?)
More, both Republican and Democratic parties supported forfeiture reform summer 2016. Is that not reason enough to end a law that has brought misery to infinitely many, innocent, US citizens?
Ultimately, neither officials nor authorities should be perpetuating a bounty-hunter system—especially when it hurts innocent people. Senator Rand Paul and Scott Bullock have pressed Congress to endorse the FAIR Act and bring justice back to US citizens.