Think we live in a free country? Ever think to yourself "It could
never happen here?" Here's what I think: you couldn't be more wrong.
The reason I say that is an evil cloud known as "Asset Forfeiture Laws".
In direct and blatant violation of the fourth amendment, these laws allow
police to simply take, and keep, any person's material possessions...
without even the need for a criminal conviction. Below is an article
reprinted without permission from the LP News (official monthly newsletter
of the Libertarian Party). There's a well-known saying that I think
applies very well to the subject, "If you aren't outraged, you aren't
By Jarret B. Wollstein
International Society For Individual Liberty
Police stopped 49-year-old Ethel Hylton at Houston's Hobby Airport and
told her she was under arrest because a drug dog had scratched at her
Agents searched her bags and strip-searched her, but they found no drugs.
They did find $39,110 in cash, money she had received from an insurance
settlement and her life savings; accumulated throug over 20 years of work
as a hotel housekeeper and hospital janitor
Ethyl Hylton completely documented where she got the money and was never
charged with a crime. But the police kept her money anyway.
Nearly four years later, she was still trying to get her money back.
Ethyl Hylton is just one of a large and growing list of Americans -- now
numbering in the hundreds of thousands -- who have been victimized by
civil asset forfeiture. Under new civil asset forfeiture, everything you
own can be legally taken away even if you are never convicted of a
Suspicion of offenses which, if proven in court, might result in a $200
fine or probation, are being used to justify seizure of tens of even
hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property. Totally innocent
Americans are losing their cars, homes and businesses, based on the claims
of anonymous informants that illegal transactions took place on their
property. Once property is seized, it is virtually impossible to get it
Proprty is now being seized in every state and from every social group.
Seizures include pocket money confiscated from public-housing residents in
Florida; cars taken away from men suspected of soliciting prostitutes in
Oregon; and homes taken away from ordinary, middle class Americans whose
teenage children are accused of selling a few joints of marijuana. No
person and no property is immune from seizure. You could be the next
Here are some examples:
The incentive for government agencies to expand forfeiture is enormous.
Agencies can easily seize property and they usually keep what they take.
According to the Pittsburgh Press, 80% of seizure victims are never
even charged with a crime. Law enforcement agencies often keep the best
seized cars, watches, and TVs for their departments, and sell the rest.
- In Washington, DC, police stop black men on the streets in poor areas
of the city and "routinely cofiscate small amounts of cash and jewelry."
Most confiscated property is not even recorded by police departments.
"Resident Ben Davis calls it 'robbery with a badge.'" [USA
- In Iowa, "a woman accused of shoplifting a $25 sweater had her
$18,000 car -- specially equipped for her handicapped daughter -- seized
as the 'get-away vehicle.'" [USA Today]
- Detroit drug police raided a grocery store, but failed to find any
drugs. After drug dogs reacted to three $1.00 bills in the cash register,
the police seized $4,384 from cash registers and the store safe.
According to the Pittsburgh Press, over 92% of all cash in circulation in
the U.S. now shows some drug residue.
- In Monmouth, New Jersey, Dr. David Disbrow was accused of practicing
psychiatry without a license. His crime was providing counseling services
from a spare bedroom in his mother's house. Counseling does not require a
license in New Jersey.
That didn't stop police fro seizing virtually everything of value from his
mother's home, totalling over $60,000. The forfeiture squad confiscated
furniture, carpets, paintings, and even personal photographs.
- Kathy and Mark Schrama were arrested just before Christmas 1990 at
their home in New Jersey. Kathy was charged with taking $500 worth of UPS
packaged from neighbors' porches. Mark was charged with receiving stolen
goods. If found guilty, they might have paid a small fine and received
The day after their arrest, their house, cars, and furniture were seized.
Based upon mere accusation, $150,000 in property were confiscated, without
trial or indictment. Police even took their clothing, eyeglasses, and
Christmas presents for their son.
How extensive are seizures in America today?
The Washington Post has reported that the U.S. Marshals Service
alone had an inventory of over $1.4 billion in seized assets, including
over 30,000 cars, boats, homes, and businesses.
Federal and state agencies seizing property now include the FBI, the DEA,
the U.S. Marshals Service, the Coast Guard, the IRS, local police, state
highway patrols, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the FDA,
and the Bureau of Land Management.
Asset forfeiture is a growth industry. Seizures have increased from $27
million in 1986, to over $644 million in 1991 to over $2 billion today.
Civil asset forfeiture defines a new standard of justice in America; or
more precisely, a new standard of injustice. Under civil seizure,
property, not an individual is charged with an offense. Evne if you are a
totally innocent owner, the government can still confiscate your "guilty"
If government agents seize your property under civil asset forfeiture, you
can forget about being innocent until proven guilty, due process of law,
the right to an attorney, or even the right to a trial. All of those
rights only exist if you are charged with a criminal offense; that is,
with an offense which could result in your imprisonment.
If you (or your property) are accused of a civil offense (offenses which
could not result in your imprisonment), the Supreme Court has rules that
you have no presumption of innocence, no right to an attorney, and no
protection from double jeapordy.
Seizure occurs when the government takes away your property. Forfeiture
is when the legal title is permanently transferred to the state. To get
seized property returned, you have to fight the full resource of your
state or federal government; someetimes both!
You have to prove your property's "innocence" by documenting how you
earned every cent used to pay for it. You have to prove that neither you
nor any of your family members ever committed an illegal act involving the
To get a trial, you have to post a non-refundable "bond" of 10% of the
value of your property. You have to pay attorney fees -- ranging from
$5,000 to over $100,000 -- out of your own pocket. Money you pay your
attorney is also subject to seizure (either before or after the trial) if
the government alleges that those funds were "tainted." And you may be
forced to go through trial after trial, because under civil seizures the
Constitutional protection against "double jeapordy" doesn't apply.
Once your property is seized, expect to spend years fighting government
agencies and expect to be impoverished by legal fees -- with no guarantee
of winning -- while the government keeps your car, home, and bank
In fact, in a recent Supreme Court decision (Bennis v. Michigan), the
Court said explicitly that innocent owners can be deprived of their
property if it is used to facilitate a crime, even without the owner's
knowledge or consent. That means you can now lose your home or business
because of the action of employees, relatives, or guests, over whom you
have absolutely no control.
Not only do police and prosecutors have the power to seize anything you
own on the slightest pretext, they also have the incentive. The dirty
little secret of the forfeiture racket is that police, prosecutors, and
judges can benefit personally by stealing your property.
Brenda Grantland -- a leasing asset forfeiture defense attorney -- gives
these examples of government greed in her book Your Home Is Under
But that's just the tip of the iceberg. The head of one Los Angeles
police forfeiture squad claims his group personally pockets over $60
million in seized property.
- Suffolk County, New York. District Attorney James M. Catterton
drives around in a BMW 735I that was seized from an alleged drug dealer.
He spent $3,412 from the forfeiture fund for mechanical and body work,
including $75 for pin-striping.
- Warren County, New Jersey. The assistant chief prosecutor drives a
confiscated yellow Corvette.
- Little Compton, Rhode Island. The seven-member police force received
$3.8 million from the federal forfeiture fun, and spent it on such things
as a new 23-foot boat with trailer and new Pontiac Firebirds.
Why do our courts tolerate these outrageous legalized thefts? Because
they get their cut. It's completely legal for confiscated property to be
used by police, proesecutors, and judges, so long as it's for official
business. In 1996, a federal district court even rules that police can
personally receive 25% of the value of any confiscated home, car, or
In Malibu, California, park police tried repeatedly to buy the home and
land of 61-year-old, retired rancher Don Scott, which was next to national
park land. Scott refused.
On the morning of October 2, 1992, a task force of 26 LA county sheriffs,
DEA agents and other cops broke into Scott's living room unannounced.
When he heard his wife, Frances, scream, he came out of his upstairs
bedroom with a gun over his head. Police yelled at him to lower his gun.
He did, and they shot him dead.
Police claimed to be searching for marijuana, which they never found.
Ventura County DA Micahel Bradbury concluded the raid was "motivated at
least in party by a desire to seize and forfeit the ranch for the
government... [The] search warrant became Donald Scott's death
As police confiscations become more and more outrageous, opposition has
been mountin. California and several other states defeated draconian
forfeiture laws a few years ago, and the Supreme Court rendered several
hopeful decisions. In 2000, Congress passed what authoer James Bovard
described as a "largely hollow reform measure" that left he playing field
"heavily tilted in the government's favor."
No wonder, then, that federal, state, and local governments are again
expanding confiscation with little concern for justice. The latest
targets: Doctors who resist government-controlled medicine... Businesses
that employ illegal aliens (who sew most clothing and harvest many
crops)... and gun owners.
Anything you own now can be seized at any time. Every week, over 5,000
innocent Americans lose their cars, bank accounts, homes or businesses,
without ever being charged with a crime.
What can you do to protect yourself? Read books like Brenda Grantland's
Your House Is Under Arrest. Demand of your representatives why
they're voting for these outrageous laws. Speak out on talk radio,
through letters, newspaper editorials, and Internet forums.
Contribute to groups that are fighting police confiscation, like the
Internation Society for Individual Liberty, the Libertarian Party, and
Forfeiture Endangers American Rights (FEAR).
The fight against civil asset forfeiture is a battle for your freedom and
property. If confiscation isn't stopped, liberty and justice will sooon
be fading memories. Help stop the looting of America now, before it's too
About the authoer: Jarret B. Wollstein is a member of the
Internation Society for Individual Liberty's Board of Directors and a
founder of the original Society for Individual Liberty. This essay is
[originally] reprinted with permission, and is available in brochure form
from ISIL. Call: (707) 746-8796. Or visit: www.isil.org
For more information about forfeiture, contact: Forfeiture Endangers
American Rights. Call: (808) FEAR-001 (332-7001). Write: P.O. Box 33985,
Washington, DC 20033-3985. Or visit: www.fear.org
I personally don't want to know anyone who can read the above article
without even a small amount of discomfort. Remember: it can happen to
you. It can happen to anyone... except, of course, the politically
connected, which means that there is no equal protection under the law.
This is not a matter of punishment, it's a platform of corruption and
extortion. Police, prosecutors, and judges are all open to moral erosion
due to the basic draw of human greed. Despite what any court may say on
the subject, the whole concept is undeniably unconstiutional and,
therefore, illegal. Things cannot commit crimes. The idea that a "thing"
can be charged with a crime, and therefore side-stepping a Constitutional
protection, goes beyond the most basic foundation of reasonable and