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Are You Guilty Until Proved Innocent?

May 25, 2010
Downsize DC

Quote of the Day: “Under civil forfeiture, police and prosecutors can seize your car or other property, sell it and use the proceeds to fund agency budgets, all without so much as charging you with a crime. Unlike criminal forfeiture, where property is taken after its owner has been found guilty in a court of law, with civil forfeiture, owners need not be charged with or convicted of a crime to lose homes, cars, cash or other property. Americans are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but civil forfeiture turns that principle on its head.” – The Institute For Justice, “Policing For Profits”

Civil asset forfeiture is the practice of seizing and keeping property that police claim was used in a crime.

  • The government does not have to prove their claim in court under the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt”
  • Instead of “innocent until proven guilty” the property owner must prove innocence at his or her own expense
  • Incredibly, the funds necessary to pay for that defense are often also confiscated

Police departments are growing more dependent on forfeitures to pay for their budgets. This means no one is safe . . .

  • Instead of “protecting and serving” the people, police are pressured to investigate “crimes” which provide the best opportunity to seize property and cash,
  • You can lose your car, your cash, or other property through a simple misunderstanding, or because you “look” suspicious
  • And even where there are state laws protecting the innocent against abuses, the federal government rewards local police departments for evading state law!

Civil asset forfeiture is a moral and constitutional outrage. Yet the courts permit it. Only public pressure will bring this corrupt and barbaric practice to an end, so we’re asking you to tell Congress to End Asset Forfeiture.

You may borrow from or copy this letter . . .

The Institute for Justice report “Policing For Profit,” offers a sobering look at asset forfeiture in the United States today. Local law enforcement have used asset forfeiture proceeds to . . .

* purchase football tickets for the district attorney’s office

* purchase TV ads for the district attorney’s re-election campaign;

* fund a “training seminar” in Hawaii for the staff of the district attorney’s office

In one instance, $250,000 was donated to the sheriff’s alma mater for a scholarship!

Amazingly, most of this money was taken from people who were never even charged with a crime, let alone convicted. It was stolen money.

“Policing For Profits” also reveals that . . .

* A survey of 770 law enforcement executives found that nearly 40% viewed civil forfeiture as a necessary budget supplement
* A sample of 52 police departments in Texas found that forfeiture proceeds accounted for 14% of their budgets
* There is very little accountability or oversight on how the money is spent

There are a few states with reasonable safeguards designed to protect the innocent against asset forfeiture abuse, but the federal government circumvents these state laws through a program called “equitable sharing.” Local police can seize property and hand it over to the federal government in order to bypass state controls.

* The local police agency can get as much as 80% of the proceeds back from the Federal government
* The true owner must fight in federal court for the return of his or her property
* Instead of the government proving guilt, the owner must prove innocence
* The costs of challenging forfeiture is often so great that many forfeitures go unchallenged

In addition, the federal government itself has cleared a $1 billion profit from civil forfeiture. And yet, 80% of the property owners are never even charged with a crime. They are victims of government theft!

I have no problem with laws that require individuals convicted of heinous crimes to forfeit criminal profits and the property they used in the crime. But taking property without even pressing criminal charges is naked theft AND YOU KNOW IT.

The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments say that no person can lose his of her property without due process of law. Honor your oath of office. Repeal the federal forfeiture laws and end equitable sharing.


You can send your letter through’s Educate the Powerful System.

If you are as outraged at civil asset forfeiture as we are, we encourage you to forward this message to your friends and share this on Facebook.

Thanks for taking action!

James Wilson
Assistant Communications Director
One Comment leave one →
  1. Ross Wolf permalink
    May 25, 2010 5:01 pm

    There are over 200 U.S. laws and violations that can subject property to civil asset forfeiture. For example a misrepresentation on a federally insured mortgage loan application can cause Civil Forfeiture of your home. No conviction is required: only “a preponderance of civil evidence” Not “clear and convincing evidence. Police in states that require conviction before property can be forfeited, get around this, by bringing federal police into an investigation to ensure a civil asset forfeiture can be prosecuted under federal jurisdiction requiring no conviction; this is called “adoption.” The Feds then share the forfeited assets with state/local police and their governments.

    Setting the stage for widespread police civil asset forfeitures was Passage of HR1658 “The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000.” When HR1658 passed—it killed the “5-year statute of limitations” for Civil Asset Forfeiture that prior gave police “Five Years” to seize property from the date “property” was involved in crime. Police now have five-years to seize property beginning from the date “police claim” they learned a “property” was involved in crime—that made it subject to civil asset forfeiture.

    Incorporated in the 2001 Patriot Act were “retroactive provisions” from “The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000” that retroactively applied to “assets already subject to government forfeiture”, meaning “property already tainted by crime” (provided) “a specific property” was already part of or (later) connected to a criminal investigation in progress” when HR.1658 passed. Under the Patriot Act, witnesses can be kept secret while being paid part of the assets they cause to be forfeited.

    Most property and business owners that defend their assets against Government Civil Forfeiture claim an “innocent owner defense.” Using an innocent owner defense can become a criminal prosecution trap for both guilty and innocent property owners. Any fresh denial to the government when questioned about committing a crime “even when you did not do it” can “involuntarily waive” your right to assert in your defense—the “Criminal Statute of Limitations” for prosecution has passed. Any fresh denial of guild, even 30 years after a crime was committed may allow Government prosecutors to use old and new evidence, including information (discovered during a Civil Asset Forfeiture Proceeding) to initiate a criminal prosecution. For that reason many innocent property and business owners are reluctant to defend their property and businesses from Government Civil Asset Forfeiture. Re: waiving Criminal Statute of Limitations: see USC18, Sec.1001, James Brogan V. United States. N0.96-1579.

    Previously U.S. prosecutors were not allowed access to the Justice Department’s “intelligence files” for domestic criminal prosecutions. In 2003 a court ruling lowered that barrier, allowing prosecutors to review old surveillance. In 2003, Attorney General John Ashcroft asked government prosecutors to review thousands of old intelligence files including wiretaps to retrieve information that prosecutors could use in “ordinary criminal prosecutions. Note that would include Civil Asset forfeitures.”

    WASHINGTON (AP) – “U.S. reviewing old, secret surveillance files in terrorism investigations.” “4,500 files.” By, Ted Bridis, The Associated Press 2003-06-04.

    Just recently Pres. Obama’s signed Executive Order EO 12425 that put INTERPOL above the United States Constitution. Obama’s Executive Order authorized INTERPOL to act within the United States without being subject to 4th Amendment Search and Seizure laws. It would appear INTERPOL can tap American phones and emails without a warrant. And that U.S. Police can use INTERPOL to circumvent the Fourth Amendment to arrest Americans and to forfeit their property by bringing INTERPOL into a criminal or civil investigation. Government can too easily take an innocent person’s hastily written email, fax or phone call out of context to allege a crime or violation was committed to cause an arrest or Civil Asset Forfeiture.

    Congress could help protect Americans from police/government forfeiture abuse by passing legislation that raised the standard of evidence Government is required to use for Civil Asset Forfeiture from a mere “Preponderance of Evidence” to “Clear and Convincing Evidence.”

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