American Elephants

Give Credit Where Credit is Due: Eric Holder Got Something Right. by The Elephant's Child

eric_holder_fast_furious_contempt_chargesEric holder’s Justice Department finally got something right. He did a good thing. On Friday, the attorney general barred state and localĀ  police from using federal law to seize property from citizens without any criminal charges or even a warrant. Under a program called Equitable Sharing, police could pull someone over for a minor infraction and if they found a large amount of cash, or anything suspicious, they could seize the car and the cash without any evidence that the cash had been obtained illegally. They citizen would then have to prove his innocence to get it back.

The program began back in the early 1980s as a tool to fight the illegal drug trade, which is conducted largely in cash. After 9/11 it was ramped up to fight terrorism.

It has evolved into something far beyond the original intent. Abuses were likely, and it became clear that local police departments could substantially increase their revenue by seizing property and making the property-owners fight to get it back on their own dime.

Ilya Somin detailed some particularly egregious cases at The Volokh Conspiracy. Do follow the link, particularly if you are unfamiliar with civil asset seizure. It seems unbelievable that they could get away with this kind of thing for so long. Civil asset forfeiture is based on the premise that law enforcement official could seize property if they could show a connection between the property and illegal activity. It does not require the property owner to be convicted of a real crime.

Read about the Caswells who owned a motel that his father had built in 1955. The U.S. Department of Justice intended to seize the motel, sell it for perhaps $1.5 million and give 80 percent to the Tewksbury Police Department which has a budget of just $5.5 million.

Lots of examples from Reason, including lots of samples of ‘Christmas Gifts’ Cops seized from people who had purchased the gifts with their own money. These examples of police misbehavior have undoubtedly played a part in the recent accusations against police.

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