Civil Asset Forfeiture: Destroying Dreams and Denying Due Process

Two sisters from Virginia — Vera and Apollonia Ward — were trying to start a business and build a better life for themselves only to be denied the American dream by overzealous law enforcement using a much misfired weapon in the tyrannical arsenal: civil asset forfeiture.

Here’s the back story, as reported by Reason:

Before last year, though, the Ward sisters, like many people, had never heard of civil forfeiture. They had started a business breeding American Bullies. They said they had a very successful first litter and were looking to buy two more dogs for breeding. Last November, they tried to send $17,500 in cash through FedEx to a middleman in California, essentially a dog broker, to scout and purchase two new animals for them. 

They said they received an unusual call several days later from someone claiming to be at a FedEx facility, who they later learned was a police officer. The person on the phone asked if there was anything in the package he should know about. No, they said, just the cash.

In follow-up calls, it became clear that they weren’t dealing with FedEx customer service but rather the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, which suspected the cash was drug proceeds. It became clear that the police were neither letting the cash go to its destination nor sending it back to the Wards.

“They said they smelled marijuana on the money,” Vera Ward says. “We don’t smoke. It’s not plausible since my sister and I aren’t around it.”

Not to mention the sisters say they had pulled the money out of the bank several days before they sent it and had receipts to back up their claim.

“We had proof, and they were like, ‘No you don’t, that’s drug money,’” Vera Ward remembers. When the sisters refused to cave and say the money was drug proceeds, they say officers threatened to go after them for money laundering.

When the sisters still refused to admit any connection to drug dealing, the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office seized the money anyway, and the San Joaquin District Attorney’s Office moved to forfeit it under California’s civil forfeiture laws.

It should be noted at the beginning that the Ward sisters were never charged with a crime.

The San Joaquin County Sheriff seized their property without even the most perfunctory degree of due process. The Ward sisters were presumed guilty until proven innocent — innocent of a crime they not only didn’t commit, but were never charged with committing.

Like most people reading this article, the Ward sisters had never heard of civil asset forfeiture before law enforcement used it to justify seizing money made by the sisters from their small business.

For those readers unfamiliar with this tyrannical transfer of wealth, a constitutional violation known euphemistically as “asset forfeiture,” here’s a summary published in 2015 by The Washington Post:

Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing.

With this kind of money up for grabs, it is little wonder that the plague of asset forfeiture has spread across the 50 states.

Paul-Martin Foss, president and executive director of the Carl Menger Center for the Study of Money and Banking, an Arlington, Virginia-based think tank dedicated to educating the American people on the importance of sound money and sound banking, wrote:

Hardly a week goes by without a mention of some innocent person who is arrested and/or imprisoned for violating an unconstitutional law, an arcane regulation, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. For completely innocuous conduct, they find themselves at the mercy of an uncaring, unfeeling bureaucratic apparatus that chews them up and spits them out.

As with so many of the other ongoing assaults on the vestigial liberty enjoyed by Americans, civil asset forfeiture is justified by its perpetrators as a means of keeping the people safe.

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Author: HP McLovincraft

Seeker of rabbit holes. Pessimist. Libertine. Contrarian. Your huckleberry. Possibly true tales of sanity-blasting horror also known as abject reality. Prepare yourself. Veteran of a thousand psychic wars. I have seen the fnords. Deplatformed on Tumblr and Twitter.

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