Dear Jeff Sessions, Why Do You Support Civil Asset Forfeiture?

civil-asset-seizure

Tuesday, January 10, begins the deliberations and questioning of Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama in his nomination for attorney general in the Trump administration.

There are all sorts of crazy things that the Left is hurling towards Sessions, most notably the accusation the he is a racist who opposed desegregating public schools, and used racially denigrating language back in the 1980s (which is why he was not granted a federal judgeship).

However, these are distracting side-shows. The real questions that need to be asked go beyond this, beyond the idea that he is a racist who wants to effectively reinstate Jim Crow laws, because that is simply not true.

No, the real question that he needs to answer is this: why do you, Senator Sessions, support the policing policy of civil asset forfeiture?

Sessions is a proponent of this policy that is used to take millions of dollars from everyday Americans without the rights of due process. Let’s take a look into what exactly this involves.

The Heritage Foundation laid out important details of this policy often used by police departments:

Civil asset forfeiture is a legal tool that allows law enforcement officials to seize property that they assert has been involved in certain criminal activity. In fact, the owner of the property doesn’t even need to be guilty of a crime: Civil asset forfeiture proceedings charge the property itself with involvement in a crime. This means that police can seize your car, home, money, or valuables without ever having to charge you with a crime. There are many, many stories of innocent people being stripped of their money and property by law enforcement.

The idea is to take property that has been used in crimes off the streets, but the incentive to “police for profit” has become all too apparent in recent years.

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This program, which is used almost universally across the country, has been used to violate the due process rights of countless Americans merely on the suspicion that their property was used in a crime. Let’s look at a few examples.

In 2016, a Christian band had $53,000 confiscated by police after the band’s financial manager was pulled over and the officers took all the cash. The money was made from a charity concert, and was going to people in need, including orphans in Thailand.

Another case involved a man who was pulled over and had $360,000 in cash in a secret compartment of his car. All of it was confiscated by police. They had no proof he committed a crime, but they took it anyways.

Another story is the history of something that sounds like it originates from an Orwell novel: Room 478. This is a special court that, without due process of law, has taken over $64 million dollars in civil asset seizures for the city of Philadelphia over the past decade.

In each of these cases, and there are countless others like them, the accused is not granted their fundamental rights of due process of law under the Fifth Amendment. There is no arrest, no indictment, no bail or bond, no right to counsel, no trial by a jury, or even a conviction in a court of law.

No, the only conviction in these cases is in the assumptive minds of the officers, who, merely on suspicion, arrest, indict, try, and convict these people all in one fell-swoop.

And getting out of such a position is extremely difficult, and I will emphasize it for the sake of clarity: it is extremely difficult to get out of such a situation.

And Jeff Sessions is a supporter of this policy. Why?

As Reason Magazine reported:

Sessions has been a staunch supporter of civil asset forfeiture, which allows police to seize property suspected of being connected to drug and other crimes, without convicting or sometimes even charging the property owner. Civil liberties groups say civil asset forfeiture lacks due process protections for property owners—who may have their cash, cars, and even houses seized—and creates perverse profit incentives for police.

At a 2015 Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing, Sessions said 95 percent of asset forfeiture cases involve people “who have done nothing in their lives but sell dope.” In addition to being unhinged from reality, the comment reveals much about Sessions’ antediluvian views on the drug war—he’s a drug war dinosaur, as Reason’s Jacob Sullum explained. For example, Sessions claimed in a 2016 Judiciary Committee hearing that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

Why would a man whom many herald as a champion of the Constitution champion such a policy that so clearly subverts the due process rights of the accused?

Why are conservatives, who claim to be ardent defenders of the Constitution, not bringing this to the light with the gravity that it deserves?

This policy of asset seizure is literally theft. Literally, theft. There is no other way to classify it.

Why does Jeff Sessions support this policy?

This is a question that he must answer. Especially as someone who will likely be the nation’s top cop, this is something that should be very concerning for anyone concerned about protecting fundamental Constitutional rights.

It’s not about the nature of the crime: it is about protecting the people from abuse of government power. That is why we have the protections of the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Amendments: to restrain overzealous prosecutors and police from oppressing the citizens.

But Jeff Sessions loves this policy.

We must find out why, and ask what he plans on doing as Attorney General. This is not an issue which we can bypass because he is a supporter of the Second Amendment.

If your rights to due process are not respected, your right to bear arms means nothing.

Jeff Sessions must provide answers on this extremely important issue.


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Seth Connell

About Seth Connell

Seth Connell is a recent graduate of Regent University with a B.A. in the Study of Government and a minor in History. He is an avid defender of the Bill of Rights, focusing primarily on the Second and Fourth Amendments. He lives in Virginia.

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