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July 30, 2014

Rand Paul: Hey Maybe The Government Shouldn't Be Able To Take Your Stuff Without Any Due Process

"Civil Asset Forfeiture" is a cancer in America. Cops and prosecutors across the country are empowered to take your money and property if they think it's been used as part of a crime. You'll have to prove your innocence before you can have your belongings back, and that isn't always enough. Oh and if the state taking all your money means you can't afford a lawyer? Too bad.

How did this cancer spread so far? We made it profitable for the government to rip off citizens. But it's ok because it was "for the children".

Though civil-asset forfeiture has a long history, it took off in America following passage of some amendments to the Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Prevention Act in 1984 that allowed police to keep and spend forfeiture proceeds. This gave law-enforcement agencies a direct financial incentive to take more stuff, and led to what the Institute for Justice (IJ), a libertarian law firm, calls "policing for profit". In 1986 the federal Asset Forfeiture Fund took in $93.7m; by September 2013 the Fund held more than $2 billion in net assets. Some of those funds are disbursed to local law-enforcement agencies. As Sarah Stillman noted in her outstanding article on forfeiture abuses, many police departments depend on forfeiture funds to fill budget gaps, which further increases the incentive to snatch (for some, this is a feature, not a bug). Agencies can spend funds with relatively little oversight on activities only tenuously related to law-enforcement: in Atlanta's Fulton County, for instance, the district attorney's office is alleged to have spent forfeiture funds on a Christmas party, flowers, a security system for the district attorney's home and assorted yummies including "mini crab cakes in a champagne sauce" (Paul Howard, the district attorney, insists such expenditures have reduced turnover and improved morale).

You'd think there'd be an outcry against this sort of extortion but there hasn't been. It doesn't happen to most people (until it does) and no politician wants to get labeled as being soft on crime or anti-police.

Well someone has finally decided to try and end this abuse. Rand Paul has taken up the cause and try and put the government back in its box. Don't think of it as anti-police, think of it as pro-freedom and limited government.

The bill would also require states “to abide by state law when forfeiting seized property.” This is important. Currently, a number of state legislatures across the country have passed reform bills to rein in forfeiture abuses. The problem is that the federal government has a program known as “adoption” or “equitable sharing.” Under the program, a local police agency need only call up the Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or similar federal agency. That agency then “federalizes” the investigation, making it subject to federal law. The federal agency then initiates forfeiture proceedings under the laxer federal guidelines for forfeiture. The feds take a cut and then return the rest — as much as 80 percent — back to the local agency. This trick thwarts the intent of state legislature that have attempted to make civil forfeiture more fair when it comes to burden of proof, protections for innocent property owners and eliminating the perverse incentive of allowing forfeiture proceeds to go to the same police agency that made the seizure.

Which brings us to a final important provision in the bill: It would “would remove the profit incentive for forfeiture by redirecting forfeitures assets from the Attorney General’s Asset Forfeiture Fund to the Treasury’s General Fund.” Read the full text of the bill here.

I've sworn off voting for Paul a number of times (Remember his pal the "Southern Avenger" and his goofy theories on Iraq and Dick Cheney?) but he keeps doing stuff I like and tempts me to get back on board.

Republicans keep telling me there are no perfect candidates and you have to hold your nose and vote for the lesser of two evils. I accept that but Republicans need to accept that for some of us that means Rand Paul is the lesser of the evils. At least with Rand Paul's crap I actually get stuff I like. With supporters of a muscular and far reaching federal government like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, I just get the crap.

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posted by DrewM. at 09:22 AM

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