December 23, 2007
I am often criticized when I refer to law-enforcement officials as jackbooted government thugs. However, there is no shortage of examples of an oppressive, out-of-control government and its armed minions acting in a thuggish manner.In one area, this is particularly outlandish — forfeiture laws. Federal, state and local officials are acting like schoolyard bullies and taking what they please, when they please.If you believe your property is your own and that the government will protect it, you are sadly living in a bygone era. Today, police officials can steal money and property, and citizens have little recourse in getting their property back. In fact, these property seizures do not even have to be accompanied with criminal charges.That’s right.You can be completely innocent and the police can still take your property without due process of law.Here in Lima, the police immorally seized more than $400,000 from a man who claims to have spent his life saving that money. The FBI, acting in a manner reminiscent of the KGB or the SS, refuses to give the money back unless the man can provide receipts proving that the money was earned legally. The man, by the way, was never charged with a crime. The police only found the money when the man legally and rightfully killed a robber in his home who was trying to steal the money.This is a widespread police practice.In October 2006, two men were driving through North Carolina when sheriff’s deputies stopped them and found $88,000 in the car. The men said they were on their way to Atlanta to buy a house. The police decided they could use the $88,000 so they took the money and sent the men on their way. A new twist on the term highway robbery.In August, a truck driver at a weigh station in El Paso, Texas, was found with $23,700. He had committed no crime. Again, police officials decided they could better spend that money so they took it from the driver.Basically, police agencies, with the incentive of an unearned windfall, are taking money from innocent Americans and then forcing them to prove they aren’t criminals. Remember the good old days when Americans were presumed innocent until proved guilty? Now cowboy cops with a police-state mentality assume the rest of us are guilty until we can prove our innocence.In other cases, police officers and prosecutors agree to drop charges against people if they will allow the asset forfeiture. Sounds like the form of justice (bribery) practiced in more corrupt areas of the world.Such asset forfeiture is perhaps one of the most tyrannical and abused practices in America.The concept of due process of law is ancient and dates back to 1215. It can be found in the Magna Carta as well as the fifth and 14th amendments to the Constitution.No amount of court rulings can negate the fact that police officials taking property from innocent citizens is patently unconstitutional as well as a violation of the American sense of fairness and substantial justice.This is a severe hemorrhaging of our individual liberties. Property rights form the very foundation of a free society.The U.S. government was formed on the ideas of John Locke. In his 1689 “Two Treaties on Government,” Locke explained that government’s purpose is to join with others to “unite, for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estate, which I call by the general name, property.” According to Locke, the primary reason for government “is the preservation of their property” and the protection of civil liberties.However, with the adoption of asset forfeiture laws, unaccountable and unelected government bureaucrats and their armed thugs are administering laws in a corrupt, arbitrary and capricious manner, partly because today’s elected officials are too timid to provide any kind of real oversight. They simply pass overbearing and anti-American laws and step away and let the police and bureaucrats do as they please.If this government theft of private property from innocent people does not upset you, then you are clearly not a liberty-loving American. Or perhaps you simply like the feeling of the heel of that government jackboot crushing your skull.You can comment on this column and other issues on Lucente’s blog: www.limaohio.com/lucente.