Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case, But Justice Thomas Questions Constitutionality Of Asset Forfeiture

[Note: This item comes from friend David Rosenthal. DLH]

Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case, But Justice Thomas Questions Constitutionality Of Asset Forfeiture
from the about-freaking-time dept
By Mike Masnick
Mar 7 2017

We’ve been writing about the sheer insanity of asset forfeiture for many, many years. If you happen to have missed it, civil asset forfeiture is the process by which the government can just take your stuff by arguing that it must have been the proceeds of criminal activity. They literally file a lawsuit against your stuff, not you. And, here’s the real kicker: in most places, they never have to file any lawsuits about the actual crime, let alone get a conviction. They just get to take your stuff, say that it must have been the proceeds of a crime, and unless you go through the insanely expensive and burdensome process of demanding it back, they effectively get to walk off with your stuff. Law enforcement has literally referred to the process as going shopping. Most people who understand what’s going on recognize that it’s just state-sponsored theft.

I’m constantly amazed to find people who simply don’t believe civil asset forfeiture could possibly work the way it does. The whole process is so crazy and so lacking in basic due process, that many people literally find it unbelievable. And while some states have moved towards requiring a criminal conviction to keep the stuff, many don’t have that, and our President and Attorney General are huge fans of civil asset forfeiture — so it’s unlikely to change any time soon.

That is, unless the courts get involved. While the Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal on yet another egregious case of civil asset forfeiture, Justice Clarence Thomas issued an accompanying statement suggesting that he’s having trouble understanding how civil asset forfeiture could possibly be legal in its current form. The case in question is egregious, but not all that unlike many other cases we’ve written about. People travelling with a large sum of cash (for a perfectly legit reason) are stripped of the cash by law enforcement who doesn’t believe their reasons — and then never files any criminal charges or anything, but just takes off with the cash:

Early in the morning on April 1, 2013, a police officer stopped James Leonard for a traffic infraction along aknown drug corridor. During a search of the vehicle, the officer found a safe in the trunk. Leonard and his passenger, Nicosa Kane, gave conflicting stories about the contents of the safe, with Leonard at one point indicating that it belonged to his mother, who is the petitioner here. The officer obtained a search warrant and discovered that the safe contained $201,100 and a bill of sale for a Pennsylvania home.

The State initiated civil forfeiture proceedings against the $201,100 on the ground that it was substantially connected to criminal activity, namely, narcotics sales.

Of course, no criminal charges were ever filed against any of the individuals related to this. The government just took the money. The lower courts all sided with law enforcement, and now the case had a chance to go before the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, it passed on the case (as it does with most petitions), but Thomas is clearly troubled by all of this:



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