It’s 3:00 a.m. in the morning, and I am up writing this after having my sleep disrupted by a disturbing dream. In my dream, I am headed somewhere on an Amtrak train when it suddenly comes to an abrupt stop. A federal agent approaches and asks for the work ID I have on a cord around my neck. I say “No,” stating that it is unconstitutional to ask me for this without reasonable cause. The agent responds with “Okay, thank you very much,” before proceeding to ask other passengers the same question.
Later in the dream, I notice a long line of people have been rounded up at the back of the train. The female conductor, who is stationed at the front of the line, just shakes her head. She mentions to the remaining passengers that this has become a frequent occurrence on many train routes and that those who agree to the confiscation are rounded up for additional search and seizure. “Those who say yes are presumed to be guilty,” she says, with a very concerned look on her face.
I am not surprised by the timing of this dream, because I have been preparing for several days to write an article on what is known as Civil Asset Forfeiture. This practice is coming under fire across the U.S. as growing numbers of innocent Americans are having their cash, computers and other items confiscated by the feds, without even being charged with a crime.
Civil Asset Forfeiture is a little-known legal tool used by law enforcement to confiscate your property, sell it and then use the proceeds to fund their crime-fighting efforts – or just buy themselves new stuff that they want. Because of the egregious manner in which it is used, states like Michigan and New Mexico have enacted reforms to prevent innocent citizens from having their money and property taken. And even law enforcement officers are now speaking out against this practice, which brings in millions in revenue to police departments who then use the money to further oppress the masses.
So how widespread is this issue? Well, you be the judge. The best case example is in Philadelphia – the so-called City of Brotherly Love – where from 2002 to 2012, over $64 million in forfeiture funds (almost $6 million a year) was exacted from its citizens. Just in 2011 alone, city prosecutors filed over 6,500 forfeiture cases to confiscate cash, cars, homes and other property. The worst offense of all is that the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office is reputed to have used $25 million of that $64 million to pay salaries, including those of the very prosecutors who led the forfeiture actions. “
The Case of Joseph Rivers
For one young African-American man earlier this year, the confiscation of his money was no mere bad dream. Rivers, 22, was on a train traveling from his hometown of Detroit to Los Angeles, and he was carrying $16,000 in cash. When the train took a quick stop in Albuquerque, Drug Enforcement Agents boarded the train and searched his bags. They found the money and then proceeded to question him rigorously about where he was going and why he was headed to LA. This inquiry led to the confiscation of his money, with the claim that possessing it was a violation of the controlled substances act – yet he was not charged with a crime. The train departed and he was left penniless in Albuquerque.
And then there is the case of the white professor, a mathematician, who was similarly harassed on an Amtrak trip. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about the tragic details from this brilliantly written article which appeared in Atlantic Magazine:
A New Tool to Siphon and Freeze Your Cash
Have you heard of the Electronic Recovery and Access to Data (ERAD) Prepaid Card Reader? If not, you’d better become acquainted with it, particularly if you use these types of cards because you do not qualify for a traditional bank account. ERAD provides law enforcement with the ability to swipe prepaid cards, check the balance, freeze the account and siphon out all of your money. For those who are legitimately using the card instead of cash, you can thank the bad boys with dirty money for your potential harassment, as criminals have resorted to the use of prepaid cards to hide their loot while on the move.
Do you think this launch of the ERAD reader will fuel an even more intense movement on the part of the authorities to engage in thievery from innocent victims, who aren’t involved in any drug or terrorist activity? And all without a subpoena or due process? You can bet your bottom dollar that it will.
Come On Feds! Can’t We Be Civil About This?
It takes a case like that of innocent victim Joseph Rivers to bring this to light. As an aside, even if he had transferred that wad of cash onto a prepaid card prior to his trip, the Drug Enforcement Agency today would still have the means to confiscate his money.
Fortunately, there are some indications that federal, state and local governments are willing to re-examine the wasteful, unproductive war on drugs. If this is indeed true, then reining in civil asset forfeiture should be a top priority. They should follow the stellar example of the State of New Mexico which now requires a conviction before a citizen’s assets can be seized.
The other good news on this front is that liberty advocate Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) is pursuing legislation that would curtail federal civil asset forfeiture. Moreover, the Washington D.C. based Institute for Justice has been making huge strides in adjudicating these sorts of cases; in some instances getting the confiscated hard-earned money and property returned to the rightful owners.
In the meantime, it is important for all of us Americans to become more aware of our constitutional rights concerning search and seizure. Constitution aside, I believe that if this asset seizure trend continues, you’ll see growing numbers of citizens resort to more stealth methods to protect their money. We Americans should consider our options, while the Feds are learning the true meaning of the word civil.