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The thing about civil asset forfeiture is it could affect anybody, at any time.
Imagine you are the average young parent. You have two children and are living in the lovely home that you and your spouse have just finished remodeling. You are beyond proud of your white picket fence and blue shutters.
As the average person that you are, you absolutely abhor crime, and you do not engage in any criminal activity. But the government doesn’t know that, so on this night you and your children will be woken up at 4:00 AM to the sound of law enforcement officers knocking on your front door. They, of course, have a warrant, and the legal right to be in your perfectly manicured home. You must be accused of a crime, you realize. And, then, they start taking all of your stuff.
The government can take nearly anything they want, even if it is not related to an alleged crime. Only in four states must a person be convicted of a crime in order for the government to seize his or her possessions. Forfeited items include homes, cars, bikes, TVs, electronics, and toys. The officers who have arrived at your home even take your vacuum cleaner and your children’s gaming consoles. And you may never be charged with a crime, let alone convicted of one!
Civil asset forfeiture is a tool given to law enforcement by federal and state lawmakers with good intentions. But it has been abused, far too often, by overzealous police and sheriff’s departments around the country.
States that have recently passed new reforms to civil asset forfeiture laws have experienced much success and should serve as models for the rest of the country. New Mexico was the only state to receive an "A" on the FreedomWorks civil asset forfeiture scorecard with a new set of reforms that mandates a conviction prior to forfeiture and sends all proceeds to the state’s general fund. Montana also has brand new reforms requiring a conviction, and Minnesota passed reforms to do the same in 2014.
Hopefully, passing such reforms will become a trend; unfortunately, it is currently the norm for states to require a low standard to evidence to seize your belongings, and for law enforcement to keep what is seized. When the government allows law enforcement to keep seized items or the profit made at auction, they are incentivized to take more of your stuff.
You live in the beautiful state of Alabama, and while you love your home and its many positive qualities, you were concerned to realize that it was one of the nine states to receive an "F" on the FreedomWorks civil asset forfeiture scorecard. Law enforcement officers need only probable cause (the same standard of evidence required for a warrant) to take any of your possessions, and they can keep 100% of what is forfeited.
You will never be charged with a crime; regardless, your stuff is gone, never to be seen again. You have lost everything, and there is nothing you can do about it. At the end of the day, despite the due process protections in the Fifth Amendment, the government has the power to steal your stuff. Can it really be called stealing though, if the government does not recognize your natural right to property?
The government owns you, and all of your stuff. Let that sink in.