DownsizeDC.org
May 25, 2010
Asset Forfeiture: Are You Guilty Until Proved Innocent?
By James Wilson

Quote of the Day: "Under civil forfeiture, police and prosecutors can seize your car or other property, sell it and use the proceeds to fund agency budgets, all without so much as charging you with a crime. Unlike criminal forfeiture, where property is taken after its owner has been found guilty in a court of law, with civil forfeiture, owners need not be charged with or convicted of a crime to lose homes, cars, cash or other property. Americans are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but civil forfeiture turns that principle on its head." - The Institute For Justice, "Policing For Profits"

Civil asset forfeiture is the practice of seizing and keeping property that police claim was used in a crime.

* The government does not have to prove their claim in court under the standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt"
* Instead of "innocent until proven guilty" the property owner must prove innocence at his or her own expense
* Incredibly, the funds necessary to pay for that defense are often also confiscated

Police departments are growing more dependent on forfeitures to pay for their budgets. This means no one is safe . . .

* Instead of "protecting and serving" the people, police are pressured to investigate "crimes" which provide the best opportunity to seize property and cash,
* You can lose your car, your cash, or other property through a simple misunderstanding, or because you "look" suspicious
* And even where there are state laws protecting the innocent against abuses, the federal government rewards local police departments for evading state law!

Civil asset forfeiture is a moral and constitutional outrage. Yet the courts permit it. Only public pressure will bring this corrupt and barbaric practice to an end, so we're asking you to tell Congress to End Asset Forfeiture.

You may borrow from or copy this letter . . .

The Institute for Justice report "Policing For Profit," offers a sobering look at asset forfeiture in the United States today. Local law enforcement have used asset forfeiture proceeds to . . .  http://tinyurl.com/22p2oop

* purchase football tickets for the district attorney's office

* purchase TV ads for the district attorney's re-election campaign;

* fund a "training seminar" in Hawaii for the staff of the district attorney's office

In one instance, $250,000 was donated to the sheriff's alma mater for a scholarship!

Amazingly, most of this money was taken from people who were never even charged with a crime, let alone convicted. It was stolen money.

"Policing For Profits" also reveals that . . .

* A survey of 770 law enforcement executives found that nearly 40% viewed civil forfeiture as a necessary budget supplement
* A sample of 52 police departments in Texas found that forfeiture proceeds accounted for 14% of their budgets
* There is very little accountability or oversight on how the money is spent

There are a few states with reasonable safeguards designed to protect the innocent against asset forfeiture abuse, but the federal government circumvents these state laws through a program called "equitable sharing." Local police can seize property and hand it over to the federal government in order to bypass state controls.

* The local police agency can get as much as 80% of the proceeds back from the Federal government
* The true owner must fight in federal court for the return of his or her property
* Instead of the government proving guilt, the owner must prove innocence
* The costs of challenging forfeiture is often so great that many forfeitures go unchallenged

In addition, the federal government itself has cleared a $1 billion profit from civil forfeiture. And yet, 80% of the property owners are never even charged with a crime. They are victims of government theft!

I have no problem with laws that require individuals convicted of heinous crimes to forfeit criminal profits and the property they used in the crime. But taking property without even pressing criminal charges is naked theft AND YOU KNOW IT.

The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments say that no person can lose his of her property without due process of law. Honor your oath of office. Repeal the federal forfeiture laws and end equitable sharing.

END LETTER

You can send your letter through DownsizeDC.org's Educate the Powerful System.

If you are as outraged at civil asset forfeiture as we are, we encourage you to forward this message to your friends and share this on Facebook.

Thanks for taking action!

James Wilson
Assistant Communications Director
DownsizeDC.org

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