Civil Asset Forfeiture (CAF) is back in the news as Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced an expanded Federal program just the other day. I was extremely surprised and disappointed in his announcement. Like other Federal forays (and in this case, state), the CAF program has been so abused by law enforcement that it must be reined in by the courts or by the Congress, or both. Now notice it is called Civil Asset Forfeiture. That does not mean the assets are civil. It means an agency can seize your property on some suspicion of a crime and even if no charges are brought and no guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is ever proven, the state can keep the property by suing the property itself and arguing by a preponderance of the evidence that is was involved in a crime–a crime never proven remember.
The Supreme Court has not been too helpful on this, given that most CAFs are allegedly connected with the “war on drugs.” But in a recent case denying an appeal, Justice Clarence Thomas, concurring in the denial, questioned the constitutionality of the practice. Rightly so. To have your property seized without a warrant, held and then kept after no guilt is proven or charges brought, smacks of a gross denial of Due Process.
A recent report noted that roughly half of all seized assets did not eventually turn out to be involved in a crime at all. Rather they are being used to pad the budgets of law enforcement agencies. Granted, budgets are tight. But that is no excuse whatsoever to violate a person’s constitutional rights. If you want to read a couple of disturbing examples, see this article by David French at http://www.nationalreview.com/article/449698/civil-asset-forfeiture-law-enforcement-scam-expanded-jeff-sessions.
It is time for Congress to act to remedy this abuse. In the meantime, Attorney General Sessions ought to re-think his expansion of this program. And the courts I hope will soon limit the practice to apply to situations only after a clear conviction has resulted.