Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sheriffs of Nothingham

Taking liberties with the law (for instance growing your own weed or raising unpermitted chickens) could get you in a heap of trouble. Police forces throughout the country are increasingly resorting to an obscure fundraising mechanism known, mainly within the war on drugs, as civil asset forfeiture.

It is a sign of the trust that we place in our police and judicial system that we allow them to take lives and property in the performance of their mission. We trust that law enforcement will not kill or injure without being able to defend their actions. We trust that they will not steal from law-abiding citizens with wealth transfer as a secondary motive. In civil asset forfeiture laws (civil asset seizure would sound too much like a violation of the 4th Amendment), the standard of defense for the police is much lower than for killing a suspected criminal, as it should be.

Still being sorted out is the matter of how much evidence of criminal behavior is required to seize assets. Maryland's laws are among the most liberal on this score and becoming more so, with the recent override of Governor Hogan's 2015 veto that would have continued to allow petty (under $300) seizures and proposed legislation that would require criminal conviction prior to forfeiture.

I, personally, think Maryland's implementation of civil asset forfeiture has been relatively just and don't think that we need to convict people before seizing assets reasonably deemed to be connected with major crimes. However, other laws should be scrutinized in view of the possibility that a violation could lead to brutal deprivation of essential goods. For example, a greenhouse that one uses for sustenance could be seized if it contains a few marijuana plants. Chicken coops could be seized if their occupants aren't allowed by zoning regulations. No trial required, just a judicial hearing. This is the kind of thing that could happen when Judge Judy or one of her wannabes reigns on the bench. You're either right or wrong, and if you're wrong, God help you.

I anticipate that the breakdown of the rule of law following the collapse of national commerce will cause law enforcement to do whatever is necessary to sustain their power, including civil asset forfeiture as their main funding mechanism. When we begin to see acronyms widely tossed around like CAF (civil asset forfeiture) and EJK (extra-judicial killings) as euphemisms for theft and murder by the ones entrusted with our protection, it will be too late to ask if we've lost control of the police (not to mention private security goons).

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