Here’s a small bit of very encouraging news that comes from, of all places, the U.S. House of Representatives. Yesterday, the House actually approved a bi-partisan amendment to an appropriations bill that restricts Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ plans to expand the loathsome practice known as asset forfeiture. What’s more, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D–Hawaii, was one of the amendment co-sponsors.
Honestly, so much of what law enforcement agencies do is bad, but asset forfeiture has managed to infuriate both the right and left.
“Known as adoptive forfeiture, the practice allows the federal government to accept money and property that has been seized by state law enforcement agencies from people, in some cases, before individuals are formally charged or proven guilty of a crime,” states a Sept. 13 news release sent out by Gabbard’s office. “This practice creates a loophole for states that have adopted stringent, constitutionally sound asset forfeiture laws and allows them to continue practices that are otherwise deemed illegal at the state level.”
While we’ve certainly had our disagreements with Gabbard in the past, her stance on opposing asset forfeiture is (literally) right on the money.
“Attorney General Sessions’ recent announcement to expand civil asset forfeiture allows local law enforcement to bypass state laws and seize property from people with the lowest possible burden of evidence without concern for whether the person is eventually charged or convicted,” Gabbard said in the news release.
In fact, Gabbard said a lot of great things about asset forfeiture, which is often misused by law enforcement agencies all around the country (you can click here to read our May 4 story on a recent and very questionable Maui Police Department asset forfeiture purchase). Here’s the rest of Gabbard’s statement on why she co-sponsored the amendment:
While some will tell you this is necessary to go after big drug cartels, the reality is the median value of the adoptive forfeiture seizures is around $9,000. Not only is this median value not a sign of major drug trafficking operations, but seizures tend to be focused on poorer neighborhoods. Between 2012 and 2017, the median value of assets seized by Cook County police was just over $1,000; in Philadelphia in 2015, the median value was just $192.
This policy does not discriminate between the innocent and the guilty. Rather, this policy places the responsibility on private citizens to prove their innocence rather than put the appropriate burden on law enforcement to prove guilt. All too often, innocent people without legal representation never see their money or property again, and even those who are proven innocent have no promise their property will be returned.
The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution exists to protect the citizens of this country from being deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. In practice and in principle, adoptive forfeiture is a violation of that Fifth Amendment.
Photo of Rep. Gabbard at the Rally for social and economic justice & equality in Washington, Nov. 2016: Lorie Shaull/Flickr