If you ask me about the most wasteful department in the federal government, I’ll state that there are lots of good choices, but if forced to identify the best candidate for elimination, I’ll go with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
If you ask me about the entitlement program most in need of reform, I’m tempted to say all of them, but ultimately I’ll argue that we should first fix Medicaid by devolving it to the states, accompanied by block grants as a transitional funding mechanism.
But if you ask me to identify the most evil and despicable thing that government does, I have no hesitation in picking asset forfeiture, which is the horrifying practice of bureaucrats stealing private property simply because they think the owners may have some connection with criminal activity.
*Such as when the government wanted to steal someone’s truck because a different person was arrested for drunk driving.
*Such as when the government tried to steal the bond money a family has collected to bail out a relative.
*Such as when the government seized nearly $400,000 of a business owner’s money because it was in the possession of an armored car company suspected of wrongdoing.
*Such as when the government sought to confiscate an office building from the owner because a tenant was legally selling medical marijuana.
*Such as when the government killed a man as part of an anti-gambling investigation undertaken in hopes of using asset forfeiture to steal the gamblers’ cash.
*Such as when the government tried to steal $17,000 from a motorist even though they never charged him with a crime, much less convicted him of any offense.
If you click the links and read those disgusting examples of thieving government, you’ll agree that all decent and human people should be libertarians.
And if you need more evidence that asset forfeiture should be eliminated, John Yoder and Brad Cates, the first two directors of the Justice Department’s Asset Forfeiture Office, have a column in today’s Washington Post, and they unambiguously disown the bureaucracy they created and the evils it has spawned.
As two people who were heavily involved in the creation of the asset forfeiture initiative at the Justice Department in the 1980s, we find it particularly painful to watch as the heavy hand of government goes amok. …Asset forfeiture was conceived as a way to cut into the profit motive that fueled rampant drug trafficking by cartels and other criminal enterprises, in order to fight the social evils of drug dealing and abuse. Over time, however, the tactic has turned into an evil itself, with the corruption it engendered among government and law enforcement coming to clearly outweigh any benefits.
They then describe how the program metastasized.
The idea seemed so simple: Seize the ill-gotten gains of big-time drug dealers and remove the financial incentive for their criminality. After all, if a kingpin could earn $20 million and stash it away somewhere, even a decade in prison would have its rewards. Make that money disappear, and the calculus changes. Then, in 1986, the concept was expanded to include not only cash earned illegally but also purchases or investments made with that money, creating a whole scheme of new crimes that could be prosecuted as “money laundering.” The property eligible for seizure was further expanded to include “instrumentalities” in the trafficking of drugs, such as cars or even jewelry. Eventually, more than 200 crimes beyond drugs came to be included in the forfeiture scheme.
This all may have been fine in theory, but in the real world it went badly astray. …As time went on and states got into the forfeiture game, the uses became more personally rewarding for law enforcement. …Law enforcement agents and prosecutors began using seized cash and property to fund their operations, supplanting general tax revenue, and this led to the most extreme abuses: law enforcement efforts based upon what cash and property they could seize to fund themselves, rather than on an even-handed effort to enforce the law. …the old speed traps have all too often been replaced by forfeiture traps, where local police stop cars and seize cash and property to pay for local law enforcement efforts. This is a complete corruption of the process, and it unsurprisingly has led to widespread abuses.
Here’s the bottom line.
…civil forfeiture is fundamentally at odds with our judicial system and notions of fairness. It is unreformable. …our forfeiture laws turn our traditional concept of guilt upside down. Civil forfeiture laws presume someone’s personal property to be tainted, placing the burden of proving it “innocent” on the owner. What of the Fourth Amendment requirement that a warrant to seize or search requires the showing of probable cause of a specific violation? Defendants should be charged with the crimes they commit. Charge someone with drug dealing if it can be proved, but don’t invent a second offense of “money laundering” to use as a backup or a pretext to seize cash. …Civil asset forfeiture and money-laundering laws are gross perversions of the status of government amid a free citizenry. …it is unacceptable that a citizen should have to “prove” anything to the government. …if the government has proof beyond a reasonable doubt of guilt, let that guilt be proclaimed by 12 peers.
Amen. Our Founding Fathers gave us a Constitution to protect us against this kind of petty tyranny. Our presumption of innocence shouldn’t be eroded just because some bureaucrats are greedy to steal private property.
For more information, here’s a must-watch video on asset forfeiture from the Institute for Justice.
And there’s another video at this link if you want to see a horror story that combines asset forfeiture and anti-money laundering nonsense.
Moral of the story: These laws should be repealed as soon as possible.
P.S. A few days ago, I predicted the Scots would vote against independence by a 56-44 margin. The final results were 55.3-44.7 against independence. That’s almost as good as my prediction for the 2010 mid-term elections.