“Government should never keep assets seized from innocent people”

(Thanks to Theo Kaht)

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday signed into law a controversial bill that changes how state law enforcement seize money and property suspected of being linked to crimes, despite pressure from Colorado sheriffs and police chiefs who say the measure will hurt investigations. “Government should never keep assets seized from innocent people,” Hickenlooper said in a written statement. “House Bill 1313 is an important first step to address problems inherent in the civil forfeiture laws.”…. Civil asset forfeiture involves the seizure of money and property from people suspected of being linked to crime, sometimes before someone is charged. The proceeds then go to the investigating agency. There is a federal process and a Colorado one, the latter of which has tougher rules for how seizures can take place.

Civil asset forfeiture (CAF) is a term you may not be familiar with…but that just makes it one of the biggest examples of government tyranny you’ve never heard of. CAF is the process by which a government entity may seize the money and/or property of a criminal…or even of someone suspected of being linked to a crime. In some cases, one need not even be charged with a crime for the government to seize your assets. Making matters worse, if you’re exonerated, getting your assets returned to you can in some cases be virtually impossible.

Yep, you read that correctly; the government can seize your property even if you’re not charged with a crime…and you may never see your things again. It’s official (and legalized) theft. Welcome to America in the 21st century; if you’re prone to screaming about government tyranny, this would seem a pretty good place to start, no?

Supporters of the legislation, from the ACLU of Colorado to ProgressNow, celebrated the measure’s signing and say the law will provide greater due-process protections to Coloradans.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said state Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, one of the bill’s sponsors. “It’s a great bill that allows for a balance between the needs of law enforcement to interdict crime, but also to protect those important civil liberties that should never be … abused.”

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed the bill into law over the strenuous opposition of law enforcement. That stridency strikes me as interesting…and more than a wee bit hypocritical. Law enforcement seizing property from citizens, some of whom haven’t even been charged with a crime, much less afforded due process? What officer of the law could in good conscience defend such a practice?

Turns out that defenders include those whose agencies and investigations are funded in large part by civil asset forfeitures.

“As the impacts of this legislation come to light, we would hope to find partners in the legislature to approach asset forfeiture reform in a manner that won’t have as significant an impact on public safety,” Frederick police Chief Gary Barbour, head of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, said in a statement Friday.

The Colorado Municipal League, which also opposed the legislation’s signing, said it was “very disappointed with this outcome.”

I’m not an attorney, so I can’t speak to the legal intricacies of CAF…especially as it impacts citizens not even charged with crimes. From a moral standpoint, though, it’s difficult to see how such a practice could be defensible. How is CAF anything but legally sanctioned theft from citizens? And how can law enforcement agencies justify a practice in which they depend on CAF to underwrite their budgets?

CAF is government stealing from citizens in the name of the law; how is that not the very definition of government tyranny? It’s the sort of thing we should hear Conservative Patriots decrying from sea to shining sea. Then again, not even those determined to get government off our backs gives a crap about anyone in our criminal justice system. They’re there for a reason, right?

What’s going to happen when they come for you?

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