For­fei­ture con­cerns

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES -

Is our Con­sti­tu­tion be­ing in­creas­ingly ig­nored? Look no fur­ther than the power law en­force­ment now has to seize your money and prop­erty un­der civil as­set for­fei­ture.

Un­der it in 2014 alone, the Feds took more prop­erty from cit­i­zens than bur­glars did, and mil­lions more were taken in by state and lo­cal po­lice. The DEA’s money seizures since 2007 ex­ceed $4 bil­lion. The Depart­ment of Jus­tice’s As­set For­fei­ture Fund has bal­looned to $28 bil­lion.

So what’s the prob­lem—it’s taken from bad guys, right? Once, per­haps, but no longer. Nei­ther con­vic­tion nor even charges are re­quired for money or prop­erty to be taken and kept. In the case of the DEA’s $4 bil­lion, for ex­am­ple, 81 per­cent—or $3.2 bil­lion—was taken with no charges filed, no con­vic­tions, or ju­di­cial re­view—the very def­i­ni­tion of in­no­cent. Be­tween 1997 and 2013, 87 per­cent of the Depart­ment of Jus­tice’s seizures were not based on crim­i­nal charges or con­vic­tions. If you’re skep­ti­cal and don’t be­lieve that you are vul­ner­a­ble, just Google “civil for­fei­ture.”

The Fifth Amend­ment de­mands that we shall not be de­prived of prop­erty with­out due process. So 13 con­cerned states (not Arkansas) moved to au­tho­rize for­fei­ture only upon a con­vic­tion. But our new At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions just is­sued a di­rec­tive that over­rides that con­straint.

The pub­lic, ed­i­to­rial boards and colum­nists seem lit­tle con­cerned. Let­ters to Sen­a­tors Booz­man and Cot­ton and my Con­gress­man Wo­mack are an­swered with non­com­mit­tal mush. Our rep­re­sen­ta­tives could act, but they will care only when we do.

RAN­DALL WARD Garfield

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