Over the past couple of years, great progress has been made in reforming the insidious practice of civil asset forfeiture (CAF), better known as policing for profit. CAF is one of the biggest threats to property rights employed by government — and Trump apparently wants to keep it.
Using CAF, local police departments and federal government seize cash and assets from innocent people who are never charged with a crime, on the mere suspicion (often fabricated) that the cash or assets were involved in criminal activity.
Even when a person is cleared of wrongdoing, in most states that person must incur legal fees and court costs to get their property back – creating a severe disincentive to even try. Originally set up in the 1980s to drain resources from criminal organization, CAF is now used by police to rake in millions from innocent people – mostly under the guise of war on drugs – so they can buy militarized police gear and further train themselves in the art of oppression.
As the Institute for Justice points out, several states have made significant improvements, effectively abolishing CAF by requiring a criminal conviction for government to keep cash and assets. These laudable reforms have, of course, been heavily criticized by law enforcement, who only sees a threat to their profits.
But now, it appears civil asset forfeiture reform has encountered a major obstacle in the form of President Trump.
On Tuesday, Trump met with sheriffs from around the country to hear their concerns, as the president has vowed to pursue a “law and order” agenda. There, Texas Sheriff Harold Eavenson complained about efforts in his state to end policing for profit.
"There's a state senator in Texas that was talking about legislation to require conviction before we could receive that forfeiture money," said Eavenson.
"Can you believe that?" Trump said in response. “Who is the state senator? Do you want to give his name? We'll destroy his career."
This shocking statement was met with laughter from the crowd of cops, but Trump’s face remained dead serious. Eavenson even seemed taken aback, and did not offer the name of the state senator who dares to suggest requiring a criminal conviction before seizing someone’s property.
The apparent willingness of Trump to destroy the career of lawmakers who believe private property and civil liberties should be protected is just one more indication of Trump’s rather frightening authoritarian tendencies. When it means seizing cash and property and perpetuating the war on drugs, the mantra of less government is forgotten.
Eavenson defended the president, suggesting that he didn’t really mean what he said.
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"He was just being emphatic that he did not agree with that senator's position," Eavenson said, adding of the senator in question, "I'm not into assassinating his character."
But if there’s anything we have learned about Trump, it’s that he is unpredictable and not afraid to stoop to shocking levels of deception and aggression.
According to Dallas News:
"Two Texas senators have offered legislation this year to require conviction before someone's assets could be seized. Sen. Konni Burton, a Republican who often pushes civil-liberties legislation to protect personal information and property, was a fierce critic of Trump during the campaign.
She and Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, a McAllen Democrat, have formed an unlikely team pushing this asset forfeiture legislation.”
Other Republicans have supported the measure, as their constituents have become aware of the threat to property rights and civil liberties CAF poses.
The target of the sheriff’s and Trump’s ire is still unknown, but Sen. Burton is not being intimidated and has penned a response, which she posted on Twitter.
"I have never met with Sheriff Eavenson, nor even heard of him before yesterday. However I take exception to his comments on asset forfeiture reform.
While I certainly want law enforcement to have the tools necessary to combat large criminal enterprises, we must be vigilant to safeguard the rights of everyday citizens from potential abuse. Do not be mistaken or misled: this is not strictly a law enforcement issue; this is a property rights issue.
Property rights are one of the foundational rights in any free society and the taking of property by government is no small matter. Requiring the government to secure a criminal conviction before permanently taking property from citizens is simply commonsense. We would not stand for anything less when it comes to our personal liberty or freedom; why should we allow our property to be taken so easily? We should not diminish the constitutional protections guaranteed for all in the 4th and 5th Amendments to more easily punish criminals. On the contrary, we should defend these protection more fiercely than ever so they are strong for future generations.
I will not be discouraged nor deterred. The moment for reform of our system of asset forfeiture has arrived. Please join me in this effort.”