NPR Stateside Hosts Holly Harris on Property Seizures

Holly Harris of Fix Forfeiture, a coalition of conservative and liberal groups, has chosen Michigan as one of three states to focus the effort to end civil asset forfeiture. They can be found at The examples are very disturbing, and this has been occurring for some fifteen or twenty years now. We call for the property to be returned, and the thieves to be removed from office and punished. But we will be lucky if a great deal of effort can cut the amount in half. We call, too, for our president and governor to order their agencies and police to cease this at once. But our call matters little, and our speech is no longer protected any better than our property.

Property seizure by the executive branch of government is unconstitutional in the United States. Our constitution, in the Fifth Amendment, simply states “No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” This means basically that property can only be taken as a punishment judged fitting in a court, by a judge. The executive branch, which includes the police, do not determine and inflict punishments in America. The constitution knows nothing of the facetious argument that property can be guilty of a crime. This is very simple constitutional scholarship, and we defy anyone to object. Give us the arguments. There are none.

Property seizure frees the executive branch from the appropriations and hence the oversight of the legislature. This is one fundamental reason that the circumstance is unconstitutional. It was not envisioned, prior to the Iran-Contra scandal, (committed by one of our heroes, in a cause that may have been just) that the executive could simply dispense with our elected representatives by raising their own funds.

How on earth civil asset forfeiture came to be practiced as it is, where on the Federal level, 80% of property seized is taken when no charges are filed, is the big question. This, my fellow Americans, is tyranny pure and simple, and calls for the appropriate response, which is to end this practice immediately. This is now being done in Michigan, and a bill proposed by Representative Walberg of Michigan and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has begun the Federal process. Good, because we may then be able to avoid advocating the right and duty of revolution under the fourth assertion of the second sentence of the Declaration- which is fundamental law in America. And let us make these governments return this stolen property, and remove those in law enforcement responsible. Then we might be on the road to healing our nation of the cancer that allows the police to steal, before it destroys our nation.

The police departments should be gravely embarrassed and humiliated that such a circumstance could ever come to be. The stunning ignorance of and disregard for the Constitution, by both the courts and the police, should be a permanent lesson to us. It is also at the root of the unjust shootings by police: enough of them do not know how to police a free people, nor could they care about the difference between policing in a free nation and in a tyranny. Her is your quiz then, if I am wrong, what is the difference? The fact that we must fear for having said so is another lesson, that the First Amendment is no more secure than the Fourth and Fifth, and lives no more secure than property, is another lesson. We have been told that tyranny is necessary because of crime and terrorism, while the police departments have been lining their pocket, and our own municipalities acquiescing for a cut. Our suspicion is that these are not the only ones receiving a cut of the money, and that this, organized crime, will be found at the root of this entire circumstance. No judge who has even read the constitution could decide that property is guilty, and can therefore be seized regardless of the persons to whom it belongs. This is simply a joke, and it is in every such decision that we ought have our FBI look for the payoffs, if not in their own pockets. But our Congress will not, and our President cannot, oversee their own executive agencies. This, too, is a part of how this circumstance has come to be.

Make no mistake, and let us no longer flatter ourselves by calling our nation free. It has for some time been a partial tyranny, with popular blessing. The fact is that Americans care more about their own money and pleasures, calling this the “American Dream.” We no longer understand or care about the difference between tyranny and liberty at the root of our Bill of Rights. We have sold and prostituted our liberty, and are speeding on our way to seeing the consequences, like a good democracy, only when these consequences actually occur. We won wars in the past because we are free, or stand for liberty.

We can expect that some very smart persons knew that sooner or later, the people might figure out the property seizure scam, and already have a plan to make the current changes ineffective, with a few payments to a few campaign funds, a couple intimidating threats, and some palm oil. Is not the difference beteen “probable cause” and “preponderance of evidence” rather subjective, for a little money? That is the trouble with Jeff Irwins bill, which obviously had to be moderated to assure support when he proposed it. How this circumstance came to be is most important because even if we pass the eight bills, this how will still be with us. They will go then to charging people with absurd crimes, then, and taking the property anyway, for example. Fix Forfeiture does not even seem to realize the depth of the unconstitutionality of this circumstance. And should this fail, they will go to the trouble of sending the matters through the courts, and enlisting our judicial branch, again with campaign contributions or direct payoffs, the same that led to civil asset forfeiture. For ten years, teaching American Government, we tried to show what a marvel the U. S. government was, countering cynicism, and we have been shown fools. This trust will not be restored in our lifetime. We may be in Canada by the time these laws are passed, as we cannot bear to live in a nation where we must fear that should our car, on the way to labor jobs with our PhD, break down we may never drive again. If my property is seized for having spoke, no one will do anything about it. There has surely been a focus on seizing amounts small enough to avoid lawyers who may have read the constitution and will bring it into court, requiring potentially messy payoffs. And again I will warn you, in parting, that we won wars in the past because we were a free people. Though we have learned to imitate its founders, Vegas will not give us even odds in a contest between tyrannies. Other nations have longer practice or more intense zeal than will a post-constitutional America. We hope you all feel secure in your lives, your wealth and public pleasures without a Fourth Amendment. What do we have to hide? Did you not know, or do you not care, that the rest of the Bill of Rights was attached?

Ben Carson, and the centrist libertarians are one hope where there is frankly very little hope.

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