In a move that is sure to have many liberals, and even some conservatives, worried about the future of law enforcement in this country, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a speech on Wednesday that reviving the civil asset forfeiture practice “takes the material support of the criminals and instead makes it the material support of law enforcement” by giving the police departments the funding that they need to buy equipment.
“As any of these law enforcement partners will tell you, and as President Trump knows well, civil asset forfeiture is a key tool that helps law enforcement defund organized crime, take back ill-gotten gains and prevent new crimes from being committed and it weakens the criminals and the cartels,” Sessions explained in his speech. “Even more importantly, it helps return property to the victims of crime.”
For those who are unaware, asset forfeiture allows the police to seize the personal property of suspects who are believed to have been involved in a crime. Those who oppose asset forfeiture, which includes people on both sides of the political spectrum, argue that it is illegal and unconstitutional for law enforcement agencies to seize personal property if the suspect is never convicted of a crime.
Indeed, even though the intentions behind asset forfeiture are solely meant to curb organized crime, it does call into question the legality and the constitutionality of such a practice. In the American legal system, suspects of a crime are considered to be innocent until proven guilty, and by seizing personal property without ever being convicted of a crime, it would appear that law enforcement is beginning to view suspects as “guilty until proven innocent.”
The Attorney General addressed these concerns in his speech on Wednesday, explaining that a number of safeguards will be established to ensure that the practice of asset forfeiture will not be abused. Under the administration’s new policy, the Department of Justice will be required to review all seizures that take place and “provide additional information” regarding why the property was seized in the first place.
As skeptical as some may be, Americans should at least take solace in the fact that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is easily one of the most conservative members of President Trump’s administration. He understands the importance of balancing the rule of law with a respect for individual liberty, and its very likely that the Justice Department will implement the new asset forfeiture policy in a way that is efficient yet mindful of personal property rights.
By contrast, one of the most hostile administrations towards personal property rights in recent history was none other than the Obama administration, which worked relentlessly for eight straight years to both expand the size of government and seize the assets of the American people.
For proof, all one has to do is look at how the Environmental Protection Agency operated throughout the Obama years. The Waters of the United States rule, for example, essentially gave the EPA the ability to regulate waterways that were previously not controlled by the federal government, such as puddles, streams and isolated wetlands. This means that even if you have a small creak running through your backyard that connects to a larger body of water, Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency might have had the ability to control and regulate it. (Related: EPA tramples personal property rights by ordering a couple to pay $70,000 for phony violations.)
Of course, the EPA is just one of the many tools that the Obama administration used to step on personal property rights. But regardless of who is in office and what direction they intend on taking the country, Americans should never forget the natural rights outlined by one of the early philosophers, John Locke, whom our Framers drew a lot of inspiration from: the inalienable rights to life, liberty and property.