Civil asset forfeiture is a legal process by which the state–law enforcement officers and prosecutors–can seize your property and sell it to fund their own agencies, all without having to convict you of a crime. The “war on drugs” has made asset forfeiture a very profitable business for law enforcement agencies, and the recent recession has only increased the incentive to maximize revenues through these means.
In Utah, an overwhelmingly popular initiative was passed by voters in 2000 that effectively ended the practice in our state; however, in 2004, police managed to convince the legislature to overturn the initiative. Now, the Institute for Justice, a civil liberties law firm that fights for property rights, gives Utah a “D-” grade for forfeiture law in its “Policing for Profit” campaign.
Not only does this kind of legislation violate an individual’s sovereign right to his property, it also violates the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as Article I Section 7 of Utah’s constitution. If the property of innocent, peaceful individuals cannot be secure from the state, and if state officials can seize our property without so much as accusing us of a crime, we truly live under tyrannical rule.
The Institute for Justice recently assisted in drafting model legislation that can be copied, customized and adopted by states to abolish civil asset forfeiture. I recently emailed a copy of this legislation along with my concerns to my representative in the Utah House, Rep. Lee Perry. It has been a week and I have not yet received a response. And I can’t say I’m surprised. Rep. Perry is a former president of the Utah Highway Patrol Association, and much of the legislation he has sponsored benefits police officers, some at the expense of citizens. He would burn a lot of bridges if he sponsored legislation that put the pursuit of justice ahead of the pursuit of profits.
I urge everyone reading this to contact your elected officials and send them this same legislation, and let your voice be heard that you will no longer tolerate this arbitrary, unjust and corrupt practice.
- “Policing for Profit” at the Institute for Justice
- ACLU Utah’s article on civil asset forfeiture
- Cops caught on tape demonstrating the corruption involved in civil asset forfeiture
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