L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 59, November 15, 1999
Senate Should Adopt Rep. Hyde's Asset Seizure Bill
by Vin Suprynowicz
Special to TLE
In August, when a U.S. Customs agent at the Canadian border stopped
two California newlyweds and found a marijuana fleck in their car, he
seized the car and $14,500 in cash, reports Tom Brune of Newsday.
Authorities never even charged the couple with a crime -- but the
government still got to keep their car and their money.
Welcome to the unconstitutional house of horrors known as "asset
forfeiture," American style. Based on an ancient English precedent
which allowed the king's men to seize abandoned smugglers' craft
after they'd been run ashore, this circus of fear makes a mockery of
our proud constitutional traditions of due process, the presumption
of innocence, and the immunity of private property from government
seizure without "just compensation."
(In Florida -- as exposed by CBS News some time back -- local police
simply flag down black and Hispanic drivers heading north on I-95,
relieve them of their cash, and send them on their lightened way.)
The only rationale for such perfidy? Government police can't figure
out any other way to make it look like they're making any progress
with their endless, multi billion-dollar "War on Drugs."
And, of course, this has become big business for "law enforcement."
Department budgets can be padded without having to return to voters
each year with hat in hand, and undercover officers get to drive
around in all kinds of fancy, seized sports cars. In all, American
police departments are expected to seize about $449 million in
asserts this year -- all without such pesky, time-consuming details
as a "trial."
Finally, after years of frustration, House Judiciary Committee
Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., won approval this summer -- by the
surprisingly large vote of 375-48 -- of a reform bill which is
expected to reduce such miscarriages of justice by at least 40
Rep. Hyde's bill would raise the standard of proof required of police
before they can seize our stuff to the much higher level of "clear
and convincing evidence," just one step short (as things are figured
in the courts) of the standard required to prove such a link "beyond
a reasonable doubt" -- the standard required for a guilty verdict in
Sensing that the public is fed up with this indiscriminate looting,
the Justice Department has decided to cut its losses, rounding up the
Usual Gang of Suspects to draft a substitute "reform" measure that
won't cut quite so deeply into the ill-gotten police booty.
Folks like Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., ranking Democrat on the Senate
Judiciary Committee, and our old favorite, Sen. Charles Schumer,
D-N.Y., are crafting bills backed by the Justice Department and their
secret police, requiring only that cops link the seized assets to
some criminal act by "the preponderance of the evidence" -- still a
weaker standard than "clear and convincing evidence."
The Schumer substitute bill would also ease or drop other key House
provisions, including the Hyde bill's elimination of expensive claim
requirements for those trying to recover their seized property, as
well as the Hyde bill's new provision of court-appointed counsel to
those too seizure victims poor to hire one.
This is described by Rep. Schumer as accomplishing a change "without
throwing the baby out with the bathwater."
In fact, the Republican majority is already on the right track. The
Hyde bill doesn't solve the entire problem, but it's a big step in
the right direction. This effort to rein in police excesses --
"short-cut" fines more reminiscent of police state bullies extorting
the wealth of helpless racial minorities at Third World border
crossings -- should be embraced and applauded, rather than watered
"If the Hyde bill passed," explains Richard Troberman, Seattle
attorney for the California newlyweds who lost their car and their
life savings, "that case never would be filed."
The Senate should screw its courage to the sticking place, and pass
the Hyde reform bill, as is.
Vin Suprynowicz, assistant editorial page editor of the
Las Vegas Review-Journal,
is the author of
Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998,"
is available at $21.95 by dialing 1-800-244-2224, or via web site
BANNED IN BOSTON (PRIVATE HOMES, THAT IS)
Reilly seeks to revoke licenses of home gun dealers
By Associated Press, 11/02/99 04:57
BOSTON (AP) Attorney General Thomas Reilly told local law enforcement
officials to begin revoking the licenses of dealers who sell guns
from their homes.
Reilly sent a two-page letter to police chiefs across the state. He
instructed police chiefs to review all state gun licenses issued by
their departments, and to revoke permits made invalid by the new law.
State officials estimate that more than 700 out of 996 licensed gun
dealers sell weapons out of their homes.
A ban on home gun sales took effect Sept. 1 as part of the state's
tough new gun control law.
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