The Coastal Post - April, 1996

Supreme Court Agrees Cops Are Robbers


The Supreme Court has legalized governmental robbery of "innocent owners" by police forces with their March decision on property forfeiture.

The case involved police seizure of a woman's car because her husband was using it to get a blow job from a street prostitute. The Supreme Court ruled that the government has a legal right to seize property used to commit a crime, even if the owner was innocent, and the wife was owned nothing for her half interest in the vehicle.

This ruling merely put the official stamp of approval on the increasingly common practice of police seizing cash and property under the rubric of its involvement with criminal activity. These civil forfeiture laws were passed in the '80s to seize property allegedly involved with illegal drug dealing, but they have rapidly expanded to include a wide variety of illegal activity because of the devouring greed of government officials and police forces.

Some recent cases which the Libertarian Party has publicized are merely the scum on the surface over this practice:

• Three Mercedes Benzes in Georgia were seized by the FBI after they alleged that the owner had placed illegal bets over their car phones.

• Police in Washington DC routinely stop pedestrians, frisk them and confiscate cash and jewelry without even charging them with a crime.

• In San Rafael, Immigration and Naturalization Service officials have been seizing trucks and vehicles of people who hire illegal aliens. Down on the border, the INS has seized over 30,000 vehicles since 1990 from people helping aliens enter the U.S.

• f a black of Hispanic person pays cash for an airline ticket, or is driving a nice car on the highway, they are a likely target of police profiles of drug couriers. Almost 90% of confiscations of cash and cars from individuals who fall into these profiles are from blacks or Hispanics, often not even charged with a crime.

• In several states, including Florida, Texas, New York and Massachusetts, laws are either on the books or are being considered which allow police to seize the property used in connection with any criminal activity, even misdemeanors.

• In New Jersey property forfeiture applies even to alleged crimes.

At the federal level there are over 200 statutes under which agents can seize property. Since 1985, federal agents have seized belongings of over 200,000 citizens. Except for a few highly-publicized cases where something "goes wrong," or the unfairness seems a little too blatant, most of these are unnoticed by the see-no-evil media. In 80% of the cases the property owner is never charged with a crime, or charges are dropped, yet the government still keeps the goods.

Over $4.1 billion in private property value has been taken under "civil forfeiture" laws by state and federal agents. This compares with only $3.8 billion stolen by common criminals in 1992. Stolen property can be covered by insurance, while there is no government seizure insurance available, even though this unconstitutional activity has increased by over 1,500% since 1985.

The Supreme Court ruling merely legitimized, at least in the minds of government officials, actions which have arbitrarily violated our constitutional rights. "This ruling obliterates the protections of the Fifth Amendment, which states that 'private property shall not be taken without just compensation,' and demolishes the 14th Amendment, which adds 'neither shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law'," Steve Dasbach, chairman of the Libertarian Party said. "Cops have become robbers with a license to steal, under this new ruling."

Oh, well, you have to seize a few eggs to scramble the constitutional rights of Americans. Most of us seem only too eager to surrender whatever shreds of individual liberty and private property rights we have in order to feel safer. When they come for your belongings in the name of law and order, surrender them cheerfully, even if you are innocent—it's the law of the land.