Civil Asset Forfeiture – That is what violating the Fifth Amendment is termed these days as police officers steal people’s property and hold it, often charging them enormous fees to get it back, keeping it for themselves or getting rid of it for profit in the process. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals provided a ruling that basically said it was OK for police to steal property from citizens, even though it’s a violation the Constitution and a variety of laws that each state has on the books.
So, how did this ruling go down?
Tim Cushing of TechDirt has the story:
In this case, officers, who were engaged in an illegal gambling investigation, raided a couple’s home, walking away with far more property than they officially said they did:
Following the search, the City Officers gave Appellants an inventory sheet stating that they seized approximately $50,000 from the properties. Appellants allege, however, that the officers actually seized $151,380 in cash and another $125,000 in rare coins. Appellants claim that the City Officers stole the difference between the amount listed on the inventory sheet and the amount that was actually seized from the properties.
Despite it being apparently obvious that being illegally stripped of personal possessions would interfere with a person’s direct interest in the property they no longer have, the court extended qualified immunity to the officers. It reasoned that theft, while illegal, isn’t unconstitutional, even when it’s the government stealing from citizens.
The panel determined that at the time of the incident, there was no clearly established law holding that officers violate the Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment when they steal property that is seized pursuant to a warrant.
Cushing went on to elaborate that the court then withdrew that opinion and indicated they may rethink the idea about police officers engaging in theft as long as they have a warrant.
He then writes:
Since there’s no precedent out there in the federal court system, the Ninth isn’t going to go out of its way to create some.
We have never addressed whether the theft of property covered by the terms of a search warrant, and seized pursuant to that warrant, violates the Fourth Amendment. The only circuit that has addressed that question—the Fourth Circuit—concluded in an unpublished decision that it does. See Mom’s Inc. v. Willman, 109 F. App’x 629, 636–37 (4th Cir. 2004).
Not addressing it now means having to write ridiculous paragraphs like this in order to prevent officers from being sued for stealing stuff during searches.
We recognize that the allegation of any theft by police officers—most certainly the theft of over $225,000—is deeply disturbing. Whether that conduct violates the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures, however, would not “be ‘clear to a reasonable officer.’”
I’m pretty sure the officers knew it was wrong to steal. It’s a thing pretty much everyone knows. That they wouldn’t have been “on notice” that it violated the Constitution seems almost beside the point. But since the officers raised a qualified immunity defense, we’re left with this absurd outcome.
Appellants have failed to show that it was clearly established that the City Officers’ alleged conduct violated the Fourth Amendment. Accordingly, we hold that the City Officers are protected by qualified immunity against Appellants’ Fourth Amendment claim.
The court recognizes what it’s doing. But it claims to be bound by [checks notes] lack of precedent, which makes this footnote’s recognition of the obvious especially meaningless.
Additionally, there are cases that are far more sinister, and what’s amazing is that in DC we’ve had and have attorney generals who are just fine with asset forfeiture, along with members of Congress and the president.
Jack Burns recounts “most egregious case of civil asset forfeiture,” which took place in Oklahoma.
To keep society safe, sheriff’s deputies in Muskogee County, Oklahoma robbed a church and an orphanage of $53,000. Real American heroes.
Eh Wah, 40, a refugee from Burma, who became a US citizen more than a decade ago, was traveling with the cash to deliver it to the intended recipients when he was targeted by modern day, state-sanctioned pirates — for a broken tail light.
Eh Wah had been entrusted with the money by the members of his Christian band who had been on a 19-city tour raising funds for the Dr. T. Thanbyah Christian Institute, a religious liberal arts college in Burma serving the Karen community there. And, they had also collected funds for the Hsa Thoo Lei orphanage in Thailand, which serves internally displaced Karen people.Clearly a vulnerable host for their parasitic process, Eh Wah’s English was incompatible with that of the deputies’ and he was accused of trafficking drugs. A K9 was called to the scene, and, naturally, alerted to the vehicle. As the Free Thought Project has reported in the past, drug dogs will alert to your vehicle nearly every single time they are brought out regardless of actually having drugs or not.
In spite of the fact that not one single bit of contraband was found, Eh Wah was brought to the police station and interrogated for hours. Police even called one of Eh Wah’s friends in the band who confirmed the story, but the cops, with dollar signs in their eyes, still believed that his story was “inconsistent.”
Eh Wah was then released without charges and sent on his way — police kept his cash, and Eh Wah kept his broken tail light.
Burns also points out that the Supreme Court was a bit more strict than the Ninth Circuit but it doesn’t seem that any of these people take the Constitution at face value.
“Fortunately, however, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has ruled on civil asset forfeiture and does not stand with Law Enforcement Agencies’ desire to get away with the loot,” Burns wrote. “In February of this year, the SCOTUS put very tight restrictions on police with respect to civil asset forfeiture. The SCOTUS concluded “Excessive Fines” should not result from search and seizure of individuals’ private property. But a way around that for police is to simply not receipt all they took. Go figure!”
If corrupt government wants to take your stuff, all they have to do is take it and the courts will back them up… or at least that’s how it appears.
The Constitution’s Fourth and Fifth Amendments are clear:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. -Fourth Amendment
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. -Fifth Amendment
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