In the last ten years, a nationwide band of shakedown artists has been robbing hundreds of innocent civilians of their money and property. The perps in this gang all wear badges, and they wield a fully automatic weapon known as civil forfeiture.
Disclaimer: We’ve taken certain liberties in illustrating this article. Unfortunately, the victims of civil forfeiture are rarely – read never – subject to such delights.
Here’s how it works: Let’s say you’re driving to a neighboring city to buy a used motorcycle found on Craigslist. The seller wants cash, so you withdraw $5,000 in greenbacks from your bank and head out on the highway, where you’re soon stopped for going 12 mph over the limit. The cop asks to search your truck. Either you consent, or he brings in a dog that false alerts about 85% of the time to justify a search. He then finds your $5K stash in a bag on the passenger seat—and confiscates it. Legally. Because anybody carrying more than a couple of 20s and pocket change is probably, or could be, a drug dealer.
But there are no illegal drugs in your car. And there’s no arrest, no Miranda warning, no criminal charges. The cop and his superiors are prosecutor, judge and jury. Mere suspicion that you might be a drug dealer is sufficient for the grab. And your only recourse to prove your innocence is to hire an attorney and file a civil suit against city hall that could drag on for years, costing far more than your $5K stash—so you just give up.
You’ve just been mugged by your own government. No, this is not from a travelogue in backwater Bolivia or Uzbekistan. This happens every day in the beacon of liberty, the United States. And it’s totally legal. What the hell?
It’s the federal civil asset forfeiture statute, passed in the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 as a new weapon in the never-ending War on Drugs that Nixon started. It initially gave the government the power to seize illicit drugs, but was expanded in 1978 and through the ’80s to include cash and property.