MCViewPoint

Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

A History of Asset Forfeiture | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on March 1, 2019

Get pulled over with what some armed government employee considers too much cash and you can say good bye.

Legalized theft just like taxes only you don’t have to fill out a form, except NO refunds.

https://mises.org/wire/history-asset-forfeiture

In 1991, Maui police officers showed up at the home of Frances and Joseph Lopes. One officer showed his badge and said, “Let’s go into the house, and we will explain things to you.” Once he was inside, the explanation was simple: “We’re taking the house.”

The Lopses were far from wealthy. They worked on a sugar plantation for nearly fifty years, living in camp housing, to save up enough money to buy a modest, middle-class home. But in 1987, their son Thomas was caught with marijuana. He was twenty-eight, and he suffered from mental health issues. He grew the marijuana in the backyard of his parents’ home, but every time they tried to cut it down, Thomas threatened suicide. When he was arrested, he pled guilty, was given probation since it was his first offense, and he was ordered to see a psychologist once a week. Frances and Joseph were elated. Their son got better, he stopped smoking marijuana, and the episode was behind them.

But when the police showed up and told them that their house was being seized, they learned that the episode was not behind them. That statute of limitations for civil asset forfeiture was five years. It had only been four. Legally, the police could seize any property connected to the marijuana plant from 1987. They had resurrected the Lopes case during a department-wide search through old cases looking for property they could legally confiscate.

The roots of the law that allowed the police to take their home ran all the way back to 1970. Prior forfeiture laws only applied to goods that could be considered a danger to society – illegal alcohol, weapons, etc. But with the birth of the modern War on Drugs, lawmakers wanted something with more teeth. Prosecutor Robert Blakely, having worked under Attorney General Robert Kennedy and various Congressmen, provided the teeth. He helped draft a bill for a new legal concept, “criminal forfeiture,” which would allow police to seize the illegally acquired profits of a convicted criminal.

In 1970, the targets were wealthy crime bosses, but the assets that could be seized consisted of anything that was funded with money connected to criminal activity. To appease those worried about abuses of power, Blakely assured them that prosecutors would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the criminal was guilty of a crime before the assets could be seized. There was nothing to worry about; only legitimate bad guys would suffer.

The new policy was passed as part of the Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Blakely was a fan of the 1931 movie Little Caesar, and the acronym was crafted to honor Blakely’s favorite character from the movie: the gangster Rico Bandello.

The RICO act wasn’t actually designed as part of the War on Drugs; it was just meant to target criminals. But when Richard Nixon took office, the RICO Act was one of a number of new tools that the members of his newly created Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (precursor to the Drug Enforcement Administration) could use to fight his Drug War. Combined with other legal innovations, such as no-knock raids and mandatory minimum sentences, Nixon and his administration would cure America of the drug menace.

Still, the pesky “conviction” requirement stood in the way of law enforcement’s ability to seize criminal assets. In 1978, Jimmy Carter’s Director of the Office of Drug Abuse (the title “Drug Czar” is often retroactively applied), Peter Bourne, decided that the law needed to be changed. Bourne learned of an incident in which a suitcase at the Miami International Airport had been left on the baggage carousel for three hours before police picked it up and found $3 million inside. If Drug Kingpins could afford to abandon so much money, they must be flush with enough cash to hardly worry about criminal forfeiture laws.

So at Bourne’s urging, Congress modified the RICO Act to allow the DEA to confiscate assets without a conviction. The burden of proof wasn’t entirely gone (yet), but the government only needed an indictment, rather than a full conviction, to justify asset seizure. After all, the government knew who a lot of these Kingpins were, but the criminals continued to get rich while the DEA struggled to build cases against them…

Be seeing you

martial law

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: