Forfeiting Our Property Rights

Governments invent the strangest excuses sometimes for whenever they want to impose something tyrannical upon you and your family. If they want something of yours badly enough, they will move heaven and earth as quickly as possible to acquire it, all the while brazenly violating your property rights. As the father of a friend of mine told his son, “When you want an excuse, any excuse is good enough!”



Medieval English law recognized the concept of the deodand, that is, that inanimate objects and animals were capable of moral agency, and thus responsible if they were used in the commission of (what is considered by the State) as a crime. Linguistically derived from deo dandum (which is Latin for “to be given to God”), the deodand was to be forfeited to the sovereign using an in rem (which is Latin for “against the thing”) legal proceeding used by the Exchequer on behalf of the Crown. The working legal assumption here was that the object itself was considered somehow tainted and thus worthy of punishment (which, ironically, would also be a covert punishment against the owner, even though he wasn’t considered by the government to be criminally liable in any way, despite the fact that he was forcibly deprived exclusive use of his property).

With the advent of American drug prohibition, the police state was able to reinvigorate this formerly obsolete legal justification for property grabs. In one sense though, unfortunately, this isn’t anything new; during Prohibition (of alcohol), cars were typically forfeited if they were deemed by the government to be used in transporting illicit alcohol (in violation of the 18th Amendment). Now, we all face the danger of having what meager legal protections we thought we still had left being encroached upon that much more, confiscatory actions being imposed upon us without even the accusation of a crime (courtesy of the police powers of government), billions upon billions of forfeited wealth being spent by agents of the State with absolutely no oversight, excessive punishments levied upon individuals (in violation of the 8th Amendment), and a flimsy standard of proof for the government but yet a much higher one for (former) property owners.

Considering the incredible tyranny of civil asset forfeiture, as it is currently practiced by the enemy rebel government, what (if anything) can be done to stop it (or at least mitigate its effects on our lives)? The author wants the legal burden of proof shifted from the property owner towards the government, and he thinks the best way of meeting that goal is to change the standard of evidence on the government’s part from probable cause to clear and convincing evidence (which is even a higher standard than a preponderance of the evidence). He also wants to replace the facilitation doctrine with the substantial connection test, besides strengthening the innocent-owner defense. Finally, Hyde introduced HR 2417, the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 1993, into Congress, which would do the previous list of things for federal cases, as well as also provide for the appointment of counsel for indigents at government expense, eliminating the cost bond requirement, extending the length of time for challenging the forfeiture itself, forcing the government to compensate the owner for any damage incurred while the property was in storage, and even the temporary return of property back to the owner pending final disposition in cases when such forfeiture would cause undue hardship upon the owner.

Henry Hyde’s Forfeiting Our Property Rights: Is Your Property Safe from Seizure? is a breathtaking initial examination into the horrid nightmare that is civil asset forfeiture. Despite congresscritter Henry Hyde’s statist behavior throughout his tenures in public office, he did at least one thing right with his otherwise miserable life and took a stand (albeit only a political one) against this uniquely pernicious form of sanctioned government looting. So now in addition to taxes, debt, and inflation, the government can now also just arbitrarily seize your property without even so much as a criminal accusation. If there isn’t yet a justification for the illegitimacy of this overly centralized government, might this just be the straw that broke the camel’s back? We can only hope if we truly care about once again securing our Liberties.

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