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President Trump Thinks Government Stealing Your Stuff is a Power Worth Threatening Over

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State senator Konni Burton didn’t wake up yesterday planning to be the target of a presidential threat, but she may have gotten one anyway. Given the president’s temperment I suppose it’s only a matter of time before he gets around to us all individually.

The Fort Worth Republican, who replaced Wendy Davis after her star-crossed gubernatorial campaign, recently introduced a bill in the Texas Senate to require a criminal conviction for civil asset forfeiture by state or local departments.

Civil asset forfeiture is the practice of law enforcement agents confiscating personal property during an investigation of a crime, sometimes just a traffic stop. In most jurisdictions the department in question is free to keep and/or sell that property for their own use or budget-padding needs. Proponents argue it eliminates property used in the commission of a crime, like a crack house or smuggling vehicles, but if no conviction is secured, then no criminal justification exists for the forfeiture.

It sounds like a heinous practice, so surely it must be rare, only used in extreme circumstances or against the most evil criminals, right? In fact, for just 2015, the total value of property seized by the feds ($5 billion) was more than victims nationwide lost from actual burglary ($3.5 billion). And that doesn’t even count state and local forfeiture, which would push the total much higher.

In a public meeting with Texas Sheriff Harold Eavenson, soon to be president of the National Sheriff’s Association, President Trump asked the sheriff to name the state senator responsible for the bill so they could “destroy his career”. State senator Juan Hinojosa, a Democrat, introduced the bill with Burton, so without naming names the threat could also refer to him. The whole room chuckled nervously (except the president), but free citizens should be mortified and incensed.

Civil asset forfeiture, especially in the abscence of a criminal conviction, is theft. Period. It might fly in police states or third world autocracies, but it is anathema to a free republic and should be considered unconstitutional on a plain reading of the Fifth Amendment.

Without due process, which under current law means a criminal trial and conviction, government agencies should be unable to take private property for any use. If they intend it for public use, e.g. auctioning off to fund their own operations, they should at minimum have to compensate the former owners if no conviction is secured. That would, of course, undermine the financial benefit of forfeiture in the first place.

But just like law enforcement argues that asset forfeiture takes the profit motive out of crime, ending asset forfeiture takes the profit motive out of policing.


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