In refusing to hear a challenge to Texas’ asset forfeiture law last week, the U.S. Supreme Court has officially legalized theft by police. Now police can steal your property for any reason or no reason at all, something they have been doing with little challenge for years.
In the case in question, James Leonard and Nicosa Kane were driving through Texas on April 1, 2013 when they were stopped by police who claimed they were speeding and following another vehicle too closely. When police searched the vehicle (you should never consent to a search) they found a safe in the trunk.
Leonard explained to police that the safe belonged to his mother, Lisa Leonard, and that it contained cash. But Kane provided what police described as a conflicting account of the safe’s contents, arousing the predator cops’ suspicions. When a police officer contacted Lisa Leonard about the safe to confirm her son’s story, she said the safe’s contents were hers and that it was her own personal business. She refused the officers’ request to provide consent for the safe to be searched.
Police officers can’t abide such temerity as a member of the citizen class invoking his or her individual right to privacy. And many — if not most — of them have been shown to be as sneaky as cats and as crooked as snakes. And so it was with these state-sanctioned thieves, who obtained a search warrant, got the safe opened and found $201,000 and a bill of sale from a home in Pennsylvania.
Neither the Leonards nor Kane were found to be in possession of drugs, nor were any of their actions — beyond the traffic infractions (which are victimless “crimes”) — criminal. But because police had designated the highway on which they were traveling – Highway 59 – as a “drug corridor,” police seized the money under the state’s asset forfeiture law.
At trial, Lisa Leonard testified the money was being sent to Texas so James Leonard and Kane could purchase a home for themselves. But the trial court and appeals courts upheld the police’s ability to seize the money based on circumstantial (or in this case, nonexistent) evidence and the fact that the highway is a designated drug corridor.
In criticizing abusive asset forfeiture schemes, Supreme Court Justice Thomas noted, “These forfeiture operations frequently target the poor and other groups least able to defend their interests in forfeiture proceedings. Perversely, these same groups are often the most burdened by forfeiture. They are more likely to use cash than alternative forms of payment, like credit cards, which may be less susceptible to forfeiture. And they are more likely to suffer in their daily lives while they litigate for the return of a critical item of property, such as a car or a home.”
It’s quite true that most often to fight in court to have seized funds returned results in legal bills many times the amount stolen, making the challenge financially unfeasible. And that’s exactly what police are hoping for.
Thanks to the faux “War on Drugs,” the privacy-stealing (and grievously-misnamed) USA Patriot Act and other liberty-stealing laws, it is no longer even necessary to “break the law” to see the police power of government. Now your assets can be seized simply because you have more cash than police determine you should have (or just because the police decide they want it) or because the state does not like the way you are depositing your own funds into your own bank accounts. The IRS is now seizing the bank accounts of businesses and individuals because they regularly made deposits of less than $10,000, which is a perfectly legal practice.
Under U.S. civil asset forfeiture laws, IRS agents – like police — can seize property they suspect of being tied to a crime even there is no direct evidence and if no charges are filed, and the agency can keep a share of the property whether a crime is ever proven or not.
Of course, the excuse for the ongoing restriction of personal privacy and personal liberty is always crime, the “War on Terror,” or both. The government promotes crime and then uses crime to restrict your liberty. Government oppression under the color of law is to reduce the freedom of honest citizens. Criminals and crooks pay no attention to laws. Any child knows this.
Government hates cash because cash money offers a certain privacy and freedom of movement and choice (hence the ongoing war on cash). The underground economy operates on cash and barter. This puts it out of reach of bureaucrats and non-producing government parasites who want to live off of your labor. That draws the ire of the state. It can’t countenance those who attempt to operate outside the system.
Police are the standing army the Founders feared and are the bane of liberty.
But there is cause for hope on this front at the state level, despite the SCOTUS ruling. This week, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed a bill that will require warrants for police to seize property.
As the Institute for Justice reports:
Under the newly signed bill, HB 812, whenever an agency seizes property, it must obtain a seizure warrant from a circuit or county court within three business days of the seizure. Agencies that do not procure a warrant with that timeframe cannot forfeit the property and must return it to its owner. In addition, agencies now will have to request prosecutors file for forfeiture within 30 days of a seizure.
Most importantly, HB 812 implements new transparency requirements to track seizure and forfeiture activity. For the first time, Mississippi agencies will now have to record a description of the seized property, its estimated value, its final deposition, as well as if anyone attempted to contest the forfeiture. Those records will then be uploaded to a public, searchable website, which will be created and maintained by the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics. Agencies that do not comply with the new reporting requirements will not receive state or federal grants.