Land of Opportunity or Civil Forfeiture?

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It’s called “forfeiture” and if you don’t know what it is, you should. Because this could be you .

In 2013, Lorenzo Ayala, a farmer in Palo Alto, California, drove to Montana to meet a woman he met online. He had $16,000 in cash along for the ride, he said, to purchase tractor parts.

According to the Associated Press, Ayala was stood up by the woman and didn’t get the tractor parts he wanted. On his way back home though, he was stopped by Montana Highway Patrol for expired license plates.

 

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Now we wouldn’t go out carting around $16,000 in cash for a whole variety of reasons. Frankly, fear of being robbed by a bad guy is pretty low on the list. What happened to Ayala is at the top of our list.

[T]he strong smell of cologne and certain items in his car, among other things, lead Trooper Erick Fetterhoff to be suspicious about the possible presence of drugs. Fetterhoff called a local police department, requesting its K-9 unit, and according to the AP, the dogs indicated smelling drugs. No illegal items were found though and no charges were brought against Ayala, but he still had to turn over the $16,000 found in his trunk and never got it back.

I can hear you now, “But, but, but this is AMERICA! Things like that don’t happen in AMERICA!!”

Welcome to the land of civil forfeiture.

It’s a standing joke here in my hometown of Phoenix that if you call 911 and report “shots fired” a police car will cruise by in 45 minutes or so. If you call 911 and tell them a drug deal is going down in the street and that there’s a gold Mercedes 500 and BMW 7 series parked in the street and it looks one of the drivers has a suitcase full of drugs and the other has a suitcase full of money … You’ll have 15 cops from the Phoenix PD, a dozen from Sheriff Joe’s MCSD, and if you’re close to the city line, half a dozen from the closest city in the Metro area.

Civil forfeiture. The cops get to keep everything they can get their hands on whether you’re convicted – or even arrested – or not.

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Here’s how it works in Montana, and they’re only marginally worse than the other 55 states (right Barack)?

“The state only requires probable cause to forfeit property,” IJ explained on its website of Montana’s status. “This is the lowest standard of proof the government must meet to prove your property is related to a crime. It is the same standard required for a search warrant and far lower than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard required for a criminal conviction.

So if the cops think they can get a search warrant they own your stuff. The only agency that has a lower standard of proof for forfeiture is the IRS if they want to seize your bank accounts.

Montana is working to rewrite their law to require a conviction before forfeiture which is a good start, but it’s far from the end. We’d like to see any forfeiture go, not to the cops, into a fund for crime victims.

As long as cops are getting a piece of the action it’s an open invitation to corruption. Make them justify their spending to their local taxpayers.

Most, if not all, of the money that has turned local police departments into paramilitary organizations with DoD equipment comes from civil forfeitures. The cops justify it by saying “it doesn’t cost the city anything, it’s drug money.”

Hogwash.

About Author

Michael Becker is a long time activist and a businessman. He's been involved in the pro-life movement since 1976 and has been counseling addicts and ministering to prison inmates since 1980. Becker is a Curmudgeon. He has decades of experience as an operations executive in turnaround situations and in mortgage banking. He blogs regularly at The Right Curmudgeon, The Minority Report, Wizbang, Unified Patriots and Joe for America. He lives in Phoenix and is almost always armed.

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