The U.S. House of Representatives is considering a bill to change how the federal government spends the proceeds from local and state law-enforcement agencies’ use of civil asset forfeiture.
House Resolution 1067, the Build up Illegal Line Defenses with Assets Lawfully Lifted Act of 2017 (BUILD WALL Act), was sponsored by U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) in February and referred to the U.S. House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations in March. The BUILD WALL Act would require the federal government’s cut of individuals’ assets and property received through the U.S. Department of Justice’s “equitable sharing” program to be spent on the construction of a border wall with Mexico.
The equitable sharing program allows local and state law-enforcement agencies to receive shares of assets taken from citizens without criminal charges or search warrants, as payment for participation in federal agencies’ asset seizure raids.
‘A Clear Violation’
Yaron Brook, executive chairman of the Ayn Rand Institute, says civil asset forfeiture is immoral, regardless of how the government uses the proceeds.
“I am against civil asset forfeiture, no matter what use the funds are put to,” Brook said. “Civil asset forfeiture is a clear violation of the right to property and the principle that one is innocent until proven guilty. It is an example of placing the state’s interests above the individual’s. The government should have no ability to freeze assets, confiscate property, unless a guilty verdict has been rendered, or there is real evidence that a prosecuted—but not convicted—criminal is trying to move assets out of reach.”
Brook says the government exists at the pleasure of the people, not vice versa.
“Individuals’ property is not the state’s to do with as it pleases,” Brook said. “We do not hold wealth at the permission of the state. To take anything from an individual, the burden is on the government to make a case for its criminal use.”
Ted Nelson, a representative of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a nonprofit organization composed of police, prosecutors, judges, and other criminal justice professionals promoting criminal justice reform, says civil asset forfeiture is unconstitutional.
Before joining LEAP, Nelson served as a Michigan State Police lieutenant and instructor.
“If you look at the 14th Amendment and due process, it states that the government shall not take away property without paying you for that property without due process,” Nelson said. “If you are trying to fund something like a wall, then the pressure is going to be on all the agencies to come up with those funds.”