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Oct 26, 2011

The American Nightmare that is Civil Asset Forfeiture

My weekly column for Future of Freedom has appeared: The American Nightmare That Is Civil Asset Forfeiture. Please visit this highly recommended site. Click here.

The American Nightmare That Is Civil Asset Forfeiture
by Wendy McElroy

Being innocent does not matter. Not being arrested or convicted of a crime is no protection. With amazing ease, the government can take everything you own. And to recover it, you must prove your innocence through an expensive and difficult court proceeding in which a severely lowered standard of evidence favors the government. This is civil asset forfeiture.

Russell and Patricia Caswell of Tewksbury, Massachusetts, know the process well. For the last two years they have battled to keep the motel that Russell’s father built in 1955 and at which Russell has worked since childhood. The couple assumed ownership of Motel Caswell in the 1980s, and viewed the asset, worth approximately $1 million, as their retirement plan.

In the past 20 years, the Caswells have rented out approximately 125,000 rooms. Of the renters, about .05 percent have been arrested for crimes. As “good” citizens, the Caswells have meticulously reported any suspicious activity on the part of renters to the police, including possible drug use.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of Justice is in the process of confiscating the motel without any compensation, through civil forfeiture, because it was used in the commission of a crime. The local police with whom the Caswells actively cooperated for years are the ones who reported them to the federal agency. Why? Because, under a policy known as “equitable sharing,” the Tewksbury police department stands to gain as much as 80 percent of the value of the seized property.

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