Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s nominee for United States Attorney General, is a big supporter of a program of which many Americans are not aware, but one that amounts to state-sponsored theft of private property. Civil asset forfeiture, as it is known, is an entirely unconstitutional system, by which state and federal authorities are seizing money and property belonging to private citizens – to the tune of millions of dollars.
In basic terms, civil asset forfeiture – which has been dubbed ‘policing for profit’ – allows law enforcement agencies to simply confiscate money, property, vehicles or any other privately owned assets without following any legal procedures, based upon nothing more than the suspicion – often, completely fabricated suspicion – that these assets were obtained as a result of illegal activity. No criminal charges need to be filed prior to the seizure of assets. Once confiscated, the assets are usually liquidated, with the proceeds going into federal or state government coffers.
Lynch, who has been nominated by Obama to replace outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, is an enthusiastic proponent of the system. As the US Attorney for New York’s Eastern District, Lynch announced, in January, that the district had taken in over $900 million, during the 2013 fiscal year, from the forfeiture of privately-owned assets.
The concept behind civil asset forfeiture is that one of the most effective ways to defeat organized crime is to confiscate the assets of those involved. In a nutshell; crime doesn’t pay if the proceeds of crimes are, themselves, taken into ‘custody.’ Some have described it as the confiscation of assets deemed to have been involved in criminal activity, in the absence of being able to charge the individual with involvement in a crime.
Once assets are seized, it is incumbent upon the individual to prove that said assets were not procured through illegal means and, therefore, should be returned. So, in this manner, both the federal government and state governments have completely inverted the basic principle upon which the justice system was founded and have decided that a person, whose assets have been confiscated, is guilty until they prove themselves innocent.
This complete perversion of the basic constitutional principles of criminal justice is enthusiastically supported by Obama’s nominee for Attorney General; a fact that casts further doubt upon Obama’s fitness to continue as President of the United States, as well as starkly demonstrating why Loretta Lynch has no respect for the Constitution, no idea of how American justice works and, certainly, has no business serving as the country’s most senior law enforcement official.
“Collections and asset forfeiture are important tools in our arsenal as we seek to ensure that crime does not pay,” Lynch said. “We are honored to be part of this web of protection for the American people.”
It is not clear, however, how this state-sponsored theft of private property and money is protecting the American people; proceeds from this nation-wide network of illegal seizure is not subject to any clearly defined process of accountability and the money is often used in ways that have nothing whatsoever to do with fighting crime.
This is certainly not a politically partisan issue; individuals, organizations and media outlets from both sides of the left-right divide have expressed concern and outrage over the forfeiture system. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – an undeniably left-leaning organization – has been waging a campaign against civil asset forfeiture, claiming that it often targets blacks and Latinos who are portrayed, by law enforcement agencies, as suspects – even without being charged with any crime – and then stripped of cash or possessions. Additionally, both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of having consented to, and benefited from, this draconian practice.
In light of the looming battle to confirm President Obama’s nominee for Attorney General, it will be very telling to observe how many liberals and elected Democrats – who constantly pretend to be champions of ‘the little guy’ and, in particular, ethnic minorities – will rally around Lynch, who clearly supports this state-sponsored theft of private property from individuals never proven guilty of any crime.
Opinion by Graham J Noble