Leef urges Congress to take lead on civil-asset forfeiture reform

George Leef’s latest Forbes column explains why Congress should act to rein in civil-asset forfeiture, even if that means opposition to President Trump.

Shortly after the election, I wrote that Trump should become a proponent of civil asset forfeiture and defang this vicious beast. A huge majority of the public thinks that civil asset forfeiture is wrongful, because it so indisputably is. Under civil asset forfeiture laws, people who have done nothing illegal and have not even been accused of a crime (much less convicted) have cash, cars, even real estate taken from them, based on nothing more than a law enforcement officer’s suspicion that the property might have resulted from or been involved in a crime.

Civil asset forfeiture is a glaring violation of due process of law that creates opponents across the political spectrum. …

… While it’s very disappointing to find that President Trump is inclined to automatically side with law enforcement on civil asset forfeiture, it really is not his decision to make. Laws are supposed to be made or changed by Congress, not by presidential order.

A bill that has gotten bipartisan support in Congress is the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act. The key provisions of the bill are to abolish the “equitable sharing” program, raise the standard of proof needed before federal agents can seize private property from the flimsy “preponderance of the evidence” to the more demanding “clear and convincing” standard, and to place the burden of proof on the government to show that the owner actually used the property or knowingly consented to its use by another in the commission of a crime.

Congress should pass that bill and put it on the president’s desk. Whether he signs it or not would tell the public a lot about his priorities. Does he care more about protecting innocent people against an abusive system of (to use Frederic Bastiat’s useful term) legal plunder, or about buttering up a potent special interest group?

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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