Posted: 3/1/2001 12:50:35 PM EDT
FYI : http://www.freerepublic.com/forum/a3a9ea0102d90.htm
Asset Forfeiture: Looting America
by Jarret B. Wollstein
International Society for Individual Liberty
Police stopped 49-year-old Ethel Hylton at Houston's Hobby Airport and told her she was under arrest because a drug dog had scratched at
Agents searched her bags and strip-searched her, but they found no drugs. They did find $39,110 in cash, money she had received from an
insurance settlement and her life savings; accumulated through over 20 years of work as a hotel housekeeper and hospital janitor.
Ethel Hylton completely documented where she got the money and was never charged with a crime. But the police kept her money anyway.
Nearly four years later, she was still trying to get her money back.
Ethel Hylton is just one of a large and growing list of Americans -- now numbering in the hundreds of thousands -- who have been victimized
by civil asset forfeiture. Under civil asset forfeiture, everything you own can be legally taken away even if you are never convicted of a crime.
Suspicion of offenses which, if proven in court, might result in a $200 fine or probation, are being used to justify the seizure of tens or even
hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property. Totally innocent Americans are losing their cars, homes, and businesses, based on the
claims of anonymous informants that illegal transactions took place on their property. Once property is seized, it is virtually impossible to get it
Property is now being seized in every state and from every social group. Seizures include pocket money confiscated from public-housing
residents in Florida; cars taken away from men suspected of soliciting prostitutes in Oregon; and homes taken away from ordinary, middle class
Americans whose teenage children are accused of selling a few joints of marijuana. No person and no property is immune from seizure. You
could be the next victim.
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Here are some examples:
* In Washington, DC, police stop black men on the streets in poor areas of the city, and "routinely confiscate small amounts of cash and
jewelry." Most confiscated property is not even recorded by police departments. "Resident Ben Davis calls it 'robbery with a badge.' ' [USA
* In Iowa, "a woman accused of shoplifting a $25 sweater had her $18,000 car -- specially equipped for her handicapped daughter -- seized as
the 'getaway vehicle.' " [USA Today]
* Detroit drug police raided a grocery store, but failed to find any drugs. After drug dogs reacted to three $1.00 bills in the cash register, the
police seized $4,384 from cash registers and the store safe. According to the Pittsburgh Press, over 92% of all cash in circulation in the U.S.
now shows some drug residue.
*In Monmouth, New Jersey, Dr. David Disbrow was accused of practicing psychiatry without a license. His crime was providing counseling
services from a spare bedroom in his mother's house. Counseling does not require a license in New Jersey.
That didn't stop police from seizing virtually everything of value from his mother's home, totaling over $60,000. The forfeiture squad confiscated
furniture, carpets, paintings, and even personal photographs.
* Kathy and Mark Schrama were arrested just before Christmas 1990 at their home in New Jersey. Kathy was charged with taking $500
worth of UPS packages from neighbors' porches. Mark was charged with receiving stolen goods. If found guilty, they might have paid a small
fine and received probation.
The day after their arrest, their house, cars, and furniture were seized. Based upon mere accusation, $150,000 in property was confiscated,
without trial or indictment. Police even took their clothing, eyeglasses, and Christmas presents for their 10-year-old son.
The incentive for government agencies to expand forfeiture is enormous. Agencies can easily seize property and they usually keep what they
take. According to the Pittsburgh Press, 80% of seizure victims are never even charged with a crime. Law enforcement agencies often keep
the best seized cars, watches, and TVs for their departments, and sell the rest.
How extensive are seizures in America today?
The Washington Post has reported that the U.S. Marshals Service alone had an inventory of over $1.4 billion in seized assets, including over
30,000 cars, boats, homes, and businesses. Federal and state agencies seizing property now include the FBI, the DEA, the U.S. Marshals
Service, the Coast Guard, the IRS, local police, state highway patrols, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the FDA, and the
Bureau of Land Management.
Asset forfeiture is a growth industry. Seizures have increased from $27 million in 1986 to over $644 million in 1991 to over $2 billion today.
Civil asset forfeiture defines a new standard of justice in America; or more precisely, a new standard of injustice. Under civil seizure, property,
not an individual, is charged with an offense. Even if you are a totally innocent owner, the government can still confiscate your "guilty" property.
If government agents seize your property under civil asset forfeiture, you can forget about being innocent until proven guilty, due process of
law, the right to an attorney, or even the right to trial. All of those rights only exist if you are charged with a criminal offense; that is, with an
offense which could resul
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