Since the inception of the United States of America, the founding fathers strived to create laws that protect the freedom of the people. They authored the Bill of Rights to institutionalize the well-being of American citizens. The Declaration of Independence even provides the people with the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Entrenched in the constitution are important amendments that declare the legitimacy of people’s rights. The Fourth Amendment states that the people hold rights over “their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” It also guarantees that issuing a warrant should have “a probable cause particularly describing things to be seized.”
This same amendment is the subject of activists who claim civil forfeiture is a violation of the rights promised by the constitution. Civil asset forfeiture is a system used by law enforcement agencies to take away an individual’s property if they suspect it is involved in criminal activity. There is a very low legal threshold for taking assets and critics insist that it condemns the owners to prove their innocence.
Additionally, reportage on civil asset forfeiture by law enforcement agencies is often scarce, especially in states that don’t require it. There are also significant monetary incentives for authorities to perform seizures because they keep a big chunk of the proceeds. This incentivization can lead to grave abuses of authority and of the law. Even in states with strict asset seizure laws, there is still a gateway for malpractice through the Justice Department’s equitable sharing program. Law enforcement agencies can work with federal agencies under the equitable sharing program to still get a share of seizure proceeds.
Activists have spoken out about unfair civil asset forfeiture practices in recent years. They postulate that the rationalization of using forfeiture to dissuade drug crimes is no longer effective. The libertarian nonprofit Institute for Justice claims forfeitures related to proven drug crimes are few and far between. The organization claims the practice largely targets average working-class Americans all over the country.
Current legislation favors civil asset forfeiture, but things are starting to change. In Arizona, the state legislature recently passed a bill that puts stricter bars to expropriate property. In a landslide vote of 57-2, both Democrats and Republicans united to move the regulation forward.
Arizona’s bipartisan agreement on letting the bill pass shows what legislators can do when they are united. Civil forfeiture shouldn’t be an issue that divides the government into opposing sides. It is a matter of civil rights and should therefore concern all citizens.
Fortunately, regular Americans are becoming more aware of the legal bylaws on civil asset forfeiture. People are engaging in informed conversations about it; the Arizona bill is proof that it is stirring concern among citizens.
The only way to amend the laws is by taking a stand together, just like how the founding fathers stood up for their rights and the rights of future Americans. Let bipartisan unity revise the laws on civil asset forfeiture.
Nationwide Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has law enforcement taken your property using civil forfeiture? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and get the assistance of a nationwide federal civil asset forfeiture attorney.