Dear friends, you are watching Washington politicians wrangle about the exigencies of tyranny under the banner of the land of the free, and meanwhile the real castle walls of freedom have already crumbled and fallen around you. You toss and banter canned news articles like grand artillery in the war of the worlds, yet in the trenches around you, the most important death of liberty trolls unimpeded, in virtual silence, busily preparing your graves.
What I am talking about is the issue on which John Adams chronicled as none other than the issue by which “American independence was born,” “the seeds of patriots and heroes were sown.” He meant no exaggeration by this. This was literally ground zero for liberty from arbitrary government.
And we’ve totally blown it.
And we virtually ignore it in the headlines. Of all major news stories about liberty, this one gets less traction than any. At stake is nothing less than the practical abolition of the fourth amendment. I have detailed this before case in my exclusive interview with James Otis, Jr. If ever we have been serious, now must be the time.
Last week, I related an article on the topic of civil forfeiture in which police and attorneys at a private seminar boasted of how they can abuse these laws to the max. The article had been run in the New York Times. Perhaps that’s what turned people off. It got little notice.
But now, news outlets all over—conservative, liberal, and libertarian alike—have picked it up. Still, few of these, even from major sources like National Review, got much traction at all, considering. Maybe it’s because “civil forfeiture” just doesn’t make stimulating headlines for the masses addicted to political rage porn. “Obama kills babies,” works better, I suppose.
But move over mainstreamers: by far the best analysis has come from a freelancer who posted on BuzzFeed. His diligent review of conference video reveals that the unconscionable hubris among these police and prosecutors is far worse than all the other articles combined led us to imagine. Combing through over ten hours of video, the editor found nuggets like this:
1. City attorney Pete Connelly muses about “what a trap” it will be to seize property in states where marijuana sales have been legalized.
Imagine that: it’s profitable enough where pot is illegal. But even where it’s legal, it will still be illegal to sell it privately—though many won’t know that or won’t care. The increase in low-level circulation will be a paradise for seizure parasites. Oh, what a wonderful trap!
Connelly quips: “You know, ten bucks of marijuana, and you get a $300,000 house. What a deal! That’s really exciting.” He adds, “What’s theirs is yours.”
And boy what a trap the system is. Connelly revels that they have designed their program to eliminate objections or oversight by involving other agencies in the share: “We’ve tried to make it so that everybody’s intertwined. The police department, they run the hearings; we don’t have attorneys go to the hearings unless there’s some exceptional circumstance, like . . . the defense bar will show up and all of the sudden start to raise the Constitution. . . .”
Imagine that: a defense attorney appealing to the Constitution is considered an “exceptional circumstance.”
He admits that he police departments, as policy, don’t even consider the Constitution. They only care whether or not their own ordinances give them cover to seize.
And in the maze of civil ordinances that give such cover, there is ample opportunity to weave and deceive and spring this trap:
2. Connelly brags that his legal filings are a “masterpiece of deception.”
While defense lawyers and defendants may not like that, the practice is useful to place impediments and legal mazes between rightful owners and the predatory department that seized their property. And the practice is very effective:
3. The government wins 96 percent of its cases.
In the few percent that it doesn’t win, it makes deals, often resulting in the sale of the property anyway and splitting the proceeds with the rightful owner. Thus the innocent owner gets back only a portion of their wrongfully seized property.
And in all of this seizing, they know that they’re not really punishing the real bad guys:
4. Connelly quips, “We’re not dealing with the Beemer crowd.”
The article’s author notes why this is important. It reveals the racket is against the common folk, not the real drug dealers they want us to believe:
If civil forfeiture truly targeted drug kingpins, then police would regularly seize all kinds of high-end, flashy cars. But according to Connelly, “we’re not dealing with the Beemer [BMW] crowd so much. We deal with just down-to-earth human beings that have their cars seized.”
He even joked, “Under our ordinance, we have cornered the 1978 Cadillac motor vehicle part of southern New Mexico.”
In addition to the “good car” anecdote covered last week, there is much more:
6. Civil Forfeiture is “self-serving.” . . .
But that’s OK, he says, “that’s why you’re doing the ordinance to begin with.”
He argues that it will be difficult to eradicate these self-dealing laws, too, because of political spin. Your city council or governing body “has to be supportive” because “it will be very hard politically . . . for a . . . politician not to be for ridding the streets of nuisances that injure people, cause damage, and so forth.” Even though injury and damages are not what a large portion of the cases really deal with, it makes for potent propaganda.
He goes on to silence some critics of civil forfeiture profiteering by citing a U.S. Appeals Court decision that says it’s a good thing to have laws that simultaneously raise revenue and enforce traffic laws—as if that was apples and apples for civil forfeiture. He soothes cops’ consciences, however, saying, that the “Supreme Court” says, “It’s OK. Don’t feel bad.”
So cops, be happy, be assured, and seize! Just don’t tell the public:
7. The Government Doesn’t Want To Disclose Data on Civil Forfeiture Because It Might Help “People That Are Trying to Fight the Program”
When an Albuquerque officer asked, literally laughing, “How much do you pull in per year?,” a panelist clammed up: “I think they would rather not talk about those numbers because then it starts becoming more of a bullet-point for people that are trying to fight the program.”
The officer, Stanley Harada, then said straight-faced: “What we’re talking about are salaries for people who administer the program.”
We can’t subject self-serving to public awareness, now, can we? But we can train our officers about it in private:
8. New Jersey Legal Academy Offers “Entertaining” Course on Civil Forfeiture.
While this may seem like a more trivial point, the substance of this “entertaining” course is not. In it, a New Jersey prosecutor reveals his policy for civil forfeiture in general: “IF IN DOUBT … TAKE IT!” (all caps in original).
The BuzzFeed author notes,
[T]he presentation reveals the government’s “WORST CASE SCENARIO” for property seized under civil forfeiture: “WE GIVE IT BACK.”
Give it back, that is, after putting the owner through months of legal hurdles, hoping they’ll give up and just quit. And remember, only a few percent actually get their property back.
A different, nearly 2-hour, video reveals more:
9. Police departments now target valuable items desired for their own use or pure cash value (such as flat-screen TVs).
10. Most of the cars seized belong to innocent third parties, not the criminals. The government keeps them anyway, as much as it can.
11. A prosecutor explains how to defeat the “innocent owner” defense in court, which he calls “very weak” and “easy” to overcome.
And there’s more:
12. One Philadelphia bureaucrat in an interview announces that even if you’re acquitted of a crime, you’re not innocent, you’re just “not guilty,” and the city can, and will, still proceed against the property.
13. When asked if the proceeds from forfeiture might go to pay her salary, the same bureaucrat clammed up: “I cannot comment on that.”
14. One lecturer declares that the civil forfeiture racket is a “gold mine,” proclaiming, “We could be Czars.”
He muses: “Just think what you could do as the legal department. We could be czars. We could own the city. We could be in the real estate business. . . . [I]t’s amazing that is going on.”
We could go on and on. This is being done, and is being expanded rapidly, all around us. It means the walls of liberty have crumbled and we have returned to the same position our forefathers bled and died to save us from. The only difference is, we don’t have a distant tyrant searching and seizing, we are doing it from within, to ourselves.
And our police and greedy city attorneys are bragging about having destroyed it behind our backs. In the face of critics who cry that it’s openly unconstitutional, destroying the fourth amendment, Connelly has nothing but contempt. He laments, sarcastically, the fact that “there is a limit,” because we are still somewhat bound by Common Law theories of our founding and heritage from ancient England. Oh what a hindrance! Connelly retorted in dry sarcasm, ridiculing the Constitutional framers:
The founders all say—the institutors of the Constitution, the framers and all—they knew all about atomic bombs and everything else—so why can’t our city people have the same foresight. Because we started in 1987. We’re up to date.
This confusing joke—which no one in the room seemed to have gotten—was meant to say that the founders and their Constitution are outdated and no longer relevant today. The implication is that since these men could not have imagined the progress of society today—e.g. atomic bombs, etc.—their Constitution and legal theory must be just as behind the times as they are in comparison to our technology. Let’s forget our Common Law heritage and the Constitutional protections against search and seizure enshrined within it. Let’s scrap those protections. Goodbye fourth amendment. Goodbye privacy. Good bye “yours,” and hello “mine,” says this city attorney—and all the thousands of police and attorneys who are watching, being trained, and ready to imitate him.
Folks, this is ground zero for liberty. If we cannot stop and change this system, then our nation is already gone. All the wrangling in the world about Obama, Boehner, 2016, or whatever else means absolutely nothing until this issue is addressed—and remedied.
It is time for a major reassessment of our land. It is time for a major reassessment of our liberty, and of We, the People, who have allowed it to be destroyed.