Now the Military Receives Forfeiture Kickbacks

Asset forfeiture is a hugely profitable enterprise for city, county, and state governments, and the federal government as well.

In the most-abused type of forfeiture—civil forfeiture—you need not be accused of any crime to lose your property.  Instead, police allege that your property was used illegally, and then seize it.  Unless you jump through a series of legal hoops, you’re not even entitled to a judicial hearing to determine if the seizure is legal.  In the meantime, you’ve lost the use of your property.

Every year, Americans lose billions of dollars through this racket.  And while some civil forfeitures are no doubt justified due to the illegal activities of the property owners, many aren’t.  Indeed, in one study of civil forfeiture, 80% of people who lost property through this process were never accused of any crime!

Now, in an age of budget cutbacks, civil forfeiture is more popular than ever.  Not to be outdone, U.S. military forces now want their cut.  And in one state—Colorado—they can now receive a share of the spoils.

A new Colorado law designates the Colorado National Guard as a “law enforcement agency” for the purpose of participating in asset forfeitures conducted pursuant to federal law.  When the Guard helps to investigate or otherwise assist in such cases, it shares in the revenues.  Indeed, earlier this month, the Guard received its first check, for $93,701.

It may be reassuring to some that the military is now helping to enforce the law.  But it represents a dangerous erosion of the long-held principal that the military should not play a law enforcement role domestically.  It also makes a mockery of the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the military from participating in arrests, searches, seizure of evidence, and other police-type activity on U.S. soil.

A possibly related development was the announcement in October that the Bush administration plans to deploy an active-duty military unit inside the United States.  This is the first such deployment within U.S. borders since the Civil War, which ended in 1865.

The prospect of fully armed soldiers joining police forfeiture squads to seize the assets of innocent property owners, and keeping a share of the proceeds, hardly sounds like the “rule of law.”  It sounds more like martial law.  And, perhaps, that’s what it is.


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Nestmann

(An earlier version of this post was published by The Sovereign Society.)

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