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Stop-And-Seize Turns Police into Self-Funding Gangs (bloombergview.com)
547 points by davidiach on Nov 13, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 261 comments



Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

I don't get it, which is why I'm asking here: Why is this "stop-and-seize" not considered unconstitutional? Has it just not been challenged that far yet, or is there a legal rationale that I have not heard yet?


No one would argue illegally obtained money cannot be confiscated. A bank robber cannot keep his stolen money, or someone selling stolen goods, or a drug dealer. The trouble with civil asset forfeiture, as its properly known, is that the burden of proof has been shifted to the accused. So, instead of the state having to prove your money is illegally obtained, or that any crime was committed, you have to prove there was not.

For a small amount of money, it is not worth it to some people to invest the time and money to sue the state to get the money back. For those that can afford a lawyer and a lawsuit, there is (Constitutional) due process.

The remedy lies with the legislatures to add a criminal element, to reverse the burden of proof, and to add an interest penalty to losing agencies.

As for the article, it is a novel idea. I would think that the amount and type of official corruption would be a better indicator of a state in decline.


>The trouble with civil asset forfeiture, as its properly known, is that the burden of proof has been shifted to the accused. So, instead of the state having to prove your money is illegally obtained, or that any crime was committed, you have to prove there was not.

It is worse than that. The money is what is charged, not the person. So the money has to prove itself innocent, which is pretty much impossible. If you hire a fancy lawyer, you might be able to fight on the money's behalf.

It seems so weird that had one read it in a fictional story, it would've broken one's suspension of disbelief.


The money isn't "charged." The case is just styled as In re $35.00 of US Currency because the case is about the ownership status of the property, not about any specific person. The money doesn't have to "prove itself innocent." The legitimate owner just needs to rebut the government's argument that it was illegally obtained.


Of course, this styling isn't just used in cases where the property was illegally obtained. It's also used in cases where it's not in dispute that the property was legally obtained, and the government simply seeks to take it from the legitimate owner as a penalty for a crime they assert he committed, in order to avoid naming the owner as a defendant even though they know exactly who owned the property they seized.


Source?


Take a look at United States v. One Ford Coupe Automobile for a start.

I'm not convinced you're entirely correct in saying that "the money isn't charged" either. So far as I can tell, the idea that the money is in fact being charged is an important part of the legal justification for asset forfeiture in the absence of an actual criminal conviction, or indeed actual culpability on the part of the owner. From Bennis v. Michigan (which you mentioned in another thread):

"On the Government's appeal from the Circuit Court's acquittal of the vessel, it was contended by the owner that the vessel could not be forfeited until he was convicted for the privateering. The Court rejected this contention, explaining: "The thing is here primarily considered as the offender, or rather the offence is attached primarily to the thing." Id., at 14. In another admiralty forfeiture decision 17 years later, Justice Story wrote for the Court that in in rem admiralty proceedings "the acts of the master and crew . . . bind the interest of the owner of the ship, whether he be innocent or guilty; and he impliedly submits to whatever the law denounces as a forfeiture attached to the ship by reason of their unlawful or wanton wrongs." Harmony v. United States, 2 How. 210, 234 (1844) (emphasis added)."


That quote from Justice Story is precisely why such proceedings are not a "penalty for a crime [the Government] assert[s] [someone] committed." The purpose of such proceedings is to confiscate property used for illegal purposes (so it cannot continue to be used for illegal purposes), not to punish the owners of the property. Hence why in that case they confiscated the ship "whether [the owner] be innocent or guilty."


So, at this exact moment, I had someone asking me what the difference between brackets and parenthesis was, legally, and I was able to hand them the laptop, and say "that".

baader-meinhoff or just serendipity, thanks. :)



But shouldn't the burden of proof rest on the government?


It should be, and it is (at least under federal law): https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/983 ("the burden of proof is on the Government to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the property is subject to forfeiture").

What I think causes confusion is the "innocent owner defense" where the burden is on the owner to prove that, notwithstanding that the property may be subject to forfeiture because it is illegal proceeds, the owner came by the property legitimately.


That's a low standard for the government to meet. "Preponderance of the evidence" means that the government doesn't need to prove the property is subject to forfeiture, just show that 50% of the evidence indicates that it could be. (guy in car from out of state at night, guy fits the profile of something, road is a "drug corridor", guy had alot of cash, guy was speeding)

It's hard to convict you of a crime for driving around with a envelope stuffed with a lot of cash. But's it's easy to demonstrate reasons why the cash may be used for nefarious purposes.


> That's a low standard for the government to meet. "Preponderance of the evidence" means that the government doesn't need to prove the property is subject to forfeiture, just show that 50% of the evidence indicates that it could be.

Preponderance of the evidence is the standard burden of proof for civil cases, whatever actors are involved -- the side the wins is the side that proves that its position is most likely to be correct.

The higher (beyond a reasonable doubt) burden of proof in criminal cases exists as a safeguard because of the greater consequences to liberty of a criminal conviction.

Its the same standard used when pretty much anyone wants to use the legal system to take your money or other property via a lawsuit, so I don't think its that outrageous that it is used for civil forfeiture cases.


If we were talking about a contract dispute where one of the parties is a city, state or the federal government, you're totally right.

If we're talking about the police alleging that you have money because of criminal acts, we should switch to the criminal standard.


It's the standard civil burden of proof. If I say I own Blackacre and you say you own it, I just have to present enough evidence to get over the 50% mark.


I think the point here is that a civil burden of proof is completely inappropriate when the plaintiff is the state and there's an allegation of criminality.


That's not necessarily a bad argument, but the theoretical basis of the criminal burden of proof is that the kind of consequences resulting from criminal conviction are different than mere property (which is routinely at issue in civil cases).

So, the principle on which the existing distinction is based really doesn't support it being applied to forfeiture actions.

And, while there might be a good argument for changing the principle underlying the distinction, I don't see a clear reason for applying specifically the beyond a reasonable doubt standard to forfeiture (or even a higher standard that would apply in any other civil claim.)


If you're being sued to turn over The property I would say no problem... but you're not, it's being confiscated


I've heard this claim before that the police "charge" the asset rather than the owner; I believe it was in John Oliver's show on civil forfeiture--mentioned in other comments below:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10560200


Isn't the money innocent until proven guilty?


No. That is the thing. The money is guilty of being dirty until the money's owner proves otherwise. Usually two things happen:

1. The owner decides it is not worth the hassle. 2. The government usually settles bogus seizes because they don't want case law building up over this subject.


You can be the rap but you can't beat the ride. The money is confiscated because the police think it was ill gotten. If you doubt they have enough proof you can bring that up at the trial.


It was covered very well by John Oliver in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kEpZWGgJks


I think another big negative here is just the fact that it shifts police org's focus towards crimes where they can "fund" themselves.

I repeat this statistic a lot, but the solved murder rate has fallen from ~90% in the 60s to ~60% in recent years. You'd think with all our new forensic technology and lower overall murder rates it would be opposite.


That 90% figure isn't reliable given the tendency to force confessions out of "known troublemakers" that was far more rampant in the 60s.


Maybe, but I still doubt that equates to a 30% drop.

I am more a fan of the whole, increase in division between community and its police leading to lack of informants among other things, idea.


There's lots of ways to read the numbers. Total murders is about the same as the high in the 60s, ~14k, but instead of 200 million people, we have well over 300 million[1]. That's over a 33% drop in per-capita murders.

1: http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/uscrime.htm


But what set of idiot justices decided that the police can stop you, see you have $10k in your trunk, and then take it even though you tell them it is from your savings and you're on the way to buy a car?


The US Supreme Court, on a number of occasions. The case law is just full of outrageous stupidity, such as https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bennis_v._Michigan in the USSC ruled that a woman's car could be seized due to her husband's offence that was outside her control.

The whole history of in rem actions is bonkers, as cases have titles like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Article_Consi...


You have to take decisions like that in context. That forfeiture arose under Michigan law. The Supreme Court wasn't saying that it's a good idea to allow the state to seize the car without accounting for the wife's interest. It was saying that Michigan's lack of an innocent owner defense to the seizure didn't rise to the level of a Constitutional violation.

A lot of decisions that seem "outrageously stupid" make more sense if you think of the Supreme Court as an umpire. The democratically-elected legislatures are supposed to make good decisions. The unelected Supreme Court should only check them if they do something egregiously against the rules. The Court should let the "game play on" if there's not a very good reason to say that a 200+ year old document trumps a state legislature's contemporary decisions.


The right to unreasonable search and seizure at the Federal level supersedes all state law. This was just a bad Supreme Court decision, morally in the same "ballpark" as Plessy vs. Ferguson


Unfortunately for this argument, the word "reasonable" means pretty much the same thing now as it did in 1787, and is clearly meant to delegate most of the answer to this question to the people (in the form of the legislature), and not the philosopher-kings of the court.

You will of course come up with many arguments, virtually all of which I'll agree with, that asset forfeiture is "unreasonable". The problem is that other people disagree with you, and, specifically and distinctively with this particular item in the bill of rights, the court is supposed to defer to the legislature as much as it can.


I'm not a lawyer but this strongly disagrees with everything I learned in high school civics class about judicial review, and with many many high profile court cases overturning popularly enacted laws, from Marbury v Madison through to the current day gay marriage ban reversals.

It seems pretty cut and dried to me that the 4th amendment supersedes any law passed in direct opposition, just like the 1st or 2nd would. This isn't a case where the courts would be making multiple logical leaps to invalidate a law they disagree with, you can describe it in 4 words "seizure without a trial", then look at the 4th amendemnt.


SCOTUS can of course overturn any statute for any reason, valid or not, subject to very few practical restrictions. So when we're talking about where they'll intervene, we're always doing that with the proviso that we're predicting their behavior based on their charter and their history.

Having said that, the history of 4A law suggests that the word "reasonable" in 4A connotes a mandate for unusual deference to the legislature --- and SCOTUS already tends strongly towards deference.


I'm not arguing that the Supreme Court can do whatever it wants. I'm arguing that they are morally wrong. They've been morally wrong before and in a few cases overturned the previous precedent.

But the only way they will do that again is if there is public pressure. So even if a lot of people disagree with me, the proper course of action is not to shut up and take my medicine. The proper course is to keep raising hell about it.


Speaking of preposterous titles, don't forget "United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Casks of Coca-Cola" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Forty_Barrels...), in which the vigilante-ish first commissioner of the FDA tried to remove the caffeine from Coca-Cola. (The company had already removed the cocaine.)


It's mostly Nixon's fault. Back in the early 70s crime was rising and people were scared and they wanted to hear about how politicians were doing something. Murders were really a matter for local law enforcement rather than the Feds so Nixon came up with the politically brilliant idea of blaming crime on drug use, announcing a war on drugs, and creating new tools such as this sort of seizure of money.

There was a big expansion of this in 1984 pushed by Biden that more or less gave us the modern form of asset forfeiture.

And we're going to have to solve this problem at the Federal level. Many states have laws preventing police from keeping the money they seize. But the DEA is happy to take credit for the seizure, keep n% of the money, and hand the rest back to the department that did the seizing.


A suspected bank robber gets arrested when the money is kept. The outcome of the arrest is a conviction or an acquittal, which (automatically) determines the fate of the money. That's different from what is described in the article


Another pretty large difference between this an the bank robber case is that when the bank robber is convicted, the police don't keep the money...the bank gets it back.

This whole issue would go away if seized assets were required to either be returned to the rightful owner or destroyed. If we allow police to keep what they seize, we should call it what it really is...pillaging.


Forfeiture was designed for cases like this: A bank robbery suspect is arrested with cash on him. The police have no evidence against the suspect but obtain a written confession - the trouble is they did not read him his rights. The confession is inadmissible, the suspect goes free. Do you hand him his money on the way out of court?

In anti-trust cases damages are tripled as a deterrent, why not institute the same penalty for police? If someone wins their money back from the police they get triple what the police tried to seize.


One reason not to institute the same penalty for the police is that taxpayers end up paying.

You might say, good, that means voters will try to ensure future police don't do this shit. Which is a nice theory, but probably doesn't work out in practice.

In practice, you have small towns that can be bankrupted by a good-size suit, which is probably not a good outcome. You also have large cities that have room to minimax what they can get away with, and now all you've done is possibly deterred really egregious cases.

It gets substantially more complicated with the intersection of feds and state agencies, where (depending on the state) police are good at gaming where the money goes depending on how and what is charged by whom. (There are complicated revenue sharing arrangements between, for instance, the DEA and local cops for forfeitures.

If your hypothetical bank robber needs to be deprived of the money (and I don't think I agree, but that's a different discussion), the proper way to align incentives is to ensure the police do not see any of the money. Period. Give it back to the bank, put it in the state general fund, give it to a random orphan, burn it, whatever[1]. But as long as the police can by shiny toys with it (conference attendance, margarita machines and outright theft have all happened), they have an incentive to push it as hard as they can.

[1] Giving the funds to the state still has incentive problems, but they are muted. I don't know that there's any empirical evidence if it is sufficiently muted to align police behavior with what most non-cops consider reasonable.


> In practice, you have small towns that can be bankrupted by a good-size suit, which is probably not a good outcome.

It's an excellent outcome. Particularly in small towns, the police strongly reflect the attitude of the people.


I went to high school in a southern town U.S. town that then had a population of about 2000. I can assure you that police behavior there strongly reflected the attitudes of a couple wealthy families in the town, not the ~1900 other folks.


Maybe treble damages would help, but with many areas of the legal system it seems to me that what's needed most is a much more efficient first pass by a neutral party (court) to determine reasonable presumptions that can be challenged by slower and more deliberate passes. In other words, why are the police and DA making this determination? Why can't we have neutral party making the determination as to what happens to seized property?


I think a better approach would be to turn the money to the state's general fund. That way you avoid the problems with cops loading up with overtime and buying fancy cars.

The problem with the direct seizures going to the cops is that the local government underfunds the overtime budget -- that affects the policeman's pocket and is a powerful motivator.


What about sending it to the Fed to be recycled or distributed however newly printed money is distributed?

I think that to avoid bad incentives, No part of government should receive any benefit from the seizure?


Maybe the additional value that must be paid should increase with the time that it is held?

To pay for the opportunity cost of the person not having access to the money for the period of time.

Also, forbidding the police from keeping the items.


> A suspected bank robber gets arrested when the money is kept. The outcome of the arrest is a conviction or an acquittal, which (automatically) determines the fate of the money.

No, it doesn't. An accused bank robber could be acquitted of the crime of robbery and still found liable for the tort of conversion of property, and have to pay the money back to the bank.

(Additionally, either criminal or civil forfeiture may be available against the specific money involved, only in a criminal forfeiture case would the acquittal of the defendant on the criminal charges be dispositive. Generally, as I understand it, criminal forfeiture applies to a broader and more distant class of property relations to the crime, and therefore isn't used for the types of property to which civil forfeiture could be applied.)


Adding interest to the seized money is not enough. In anti-trust cases the US law is that damages are tripled to provide a deterrent to large companies trying to stifle competition from small companies. Why not have the same law in place here, if by some miracle a victim is able to prove their money is innocent they would get triple their money from the police.


Treble damages is not enough.

The police and everyone involved in the seizure belongs in jail for the term appropriate under Grand Theft statutes.

Though I think there is a case that since they are government officials, the sentences should are trebled.


Because the police haven't broken any laws and those guilty of anti-trust violations have.


Didn't civil forfeiture take off as a way to counter the rise of drug monies making kingpins? If to a great degree it's true and simultaneously we're reëvaluating cannabis and society and reëxamining three strikes laws, etc., I would hope we also take a critical look at this shift in burden of proof transferred to the accused with the hope it goes back to the prosecution.


Yeah but policing is expensive, being tough on crime is popular (but mostly only with white republicans) and lowering or eliminating taxes is sacrosanct to republicans. Perfect combination for these kind of abuses.

As long as the victimized populaces doesn't vote for the politicians in power or is otherwise disenfranchised and poor, it's a great plan /s.


Biden is one of the architects of these abuses, and the Democrats elected him vice president-- twice. Plenty of blame to go around.


I blame the dearth of choices, not the voters. I think they voted for the best option they had.


I think would not paint anti crime with such a broad brush. Many times the places supporting toughness on crime are places with high crime rates. Many marginalized areas want _more_ policing, not less.

Also civil forfeiture usually ruffles conservatives as government overreach. Basically, toughness on crime came from many odd bedfellows.

For example, California popularized three strikes, a very liberal state.


The 4th amendment has consistently understood to allow police to search in exigent circumstances[1], and that's the right decision. If the police have good reason to believe you just robbed a store or attacked someone, they shouldn't need to get a warrant to search you. And if they find a gun on you[2] when they stop you for real cause, they shouldn't need a warrant to seize that gun.

The problem is that the courts have allowed cops to twist that "good reason" to the point where it is a blanket right to search anyone, any time, and steal their property. That's the abuse of what ought to be a relatively narrow exception.

[1] https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/exigent_circumstances

[2] Note that this point isn't about gun control (whether you like or hate gun control). It's about someone who carried or used a gun while committing a crime, which is an entirely different beast!


> And if they find a gun on you[2] when they stop you for real cause, they shouldn't need a warrant to seize that gun.

Yes they should. Either they are arresting you and the gun gets processed like everything else, or they aren't arresting you and thus need a warrant to seize anything from you. If they don't have enough evidence to arrest you for the crime then they don't have enough evidence to seize the gun without a warrant.


You're not actually denying what I said. If they arrest you without a warrant, then they seize that gun without a warrant.

As for whether they should ever be able to seize a gun without arresting you, I'll defer an opinion--I feel like my knowledge of the variety of cases isn't up to snuff.


What if you were just passing through and they hit you with a bullshit charge, the fine for which is "give us your gun?" That's the way these laws often work. They snag people who don't live in the area and don't have the resources to fight them in court (especially if you seize their money).


Which is why either they have enough to arrest you, enough to get a warrant, or they don't take your property.


But they do take your property.

"There have been 61,998 cash seizures made on highways and elsewhere since 9/11 without search warrants or indictments through the Equitable Sharing Program, totaling more than $2.5 billion. State and local authorities kept more than $1.7 billion of that while Justice, Homeland Security and other federal agencies received $800 million. Half of the seizures were below $8,800."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/2014/09/06/st...


> ... they shouldn't need a warrant to seize that gun.

Temporarily.

If they're not going to charge you, they should return the gun.

The alternative is to declare "gun free" zones near the location of all gun crimes. Not sure who did it? No problem! Take everyones guns.


That's a fair addition. The logic I was outlining only applies to evidence in an investigation.


It is unconstitutional, but our government stopped following that document a while ago. Just look at civil forfeiture, the NSA dragnet, journalists being sued by the Whitehouse administration, NDAA authorization to kill Americans w/o trial or the existence of Gitmo.


Unless it is to defend gun ownership? (clueless UK citizen here)


Tons (if not all) of gun laws exist in the US that are unconstitutional. You many not know this as a UK citizen but the gun industry in the US is very regulated, e.g. creating a gun from scratch by yourself and selling it to someone else is illegal.


.... it would seem to be a fairly extreme interpretation of the 2nd amendment to support the creation of uncontrolled, unsafe, unlicensed, untracked firearms.

The 2nd amendment just says you have to be able to own and carry weapons, with a rough implication that they should be fit for military purpose. The idea that registration or quality or safety requirements are somehow unconstitutional is and has always been absurd.


They become less absurd in light of other abuses against civil rights.

~The 14th Amendment just says that blacks have equal rights to vote as whites. The idea that poll taxes or literacy tests or official intimidation while in transit to the polling places are somehow unconstitutional is and always has been... absolutely correct.~

In some counties, bearing a concealed firearm requires a permit issued by the sheriff. In some counties, the sheriffs do not issue any permits. In others, the sheriffs issue fewer permits to black people than the local demographic statistics would otherwise suggest.

Do you understand now why such subtle and apparently reasonable encroachments upon a right must be scrutinized so very closely?


> The 14th Amendment just says that blacks have equal rights to vote as whites.

No, it doesn't say that at all. You are probably thinking of the 15th Amendment, section 1 of which is "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

> The idea that poll taxes or literacy tests or official intimidation while in transit to the polling places are somehow unconstitutional is and always has been... absolutely correct

Except, not; hence the prohibition of poll taxes by the 24th Amendment, and the prohibition of literacy tests for voting in some districts by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, later amended to apply to the whole country in 1970.

(Those things have, no doubt, always been wrong; they were not, however, unconstitutional, or even prohibited federally in any form, until much later than the 15th Amendment.)


My errors of fact aside, reasonable restrictions may be applied unreasonably by a biased enforcer.

While it may seem reasonable to require a proficiency test to legally own a gun, what you will see in practice is that any possible ambiguity in the legal definition for such a test will be exploited to serve the political preference of the tester.


> it would seem to be a fairly extreme interpretation of the 2nd amendment to support the creation of uncontrolled, unsafe, unlicensed, untracked firearms

You're right, the laws are unconstitutional because of the tenth amendment.

Before the normal arguments about the constitution pop up, please know that I'm not a rightist and I don't support it, I just don't like it when people twist words and laws to suit their political agenda.


The only real reason blatantly anti-constitutional law such as blanket seizure/confiscation hasn't happened on a large scale yet (because they've sure as hell tried) is that, if such laws were passed, the powers that be would suddenly find themselves in front of an enormous number of very angry gun owners who (hopefully) would be less than willing to cooperate peacefully.


Most gun legislation dies pretty quickly in congress. I don't think the threat of violence from gun owners has particularly affected that process.


To me it seems unclear that the threat of this sort violence from gun owners has actually been a significant consideration or relevance for many decades, despite the mythology surrounding it. As opposed to the demonstrably effective threat of organized political action by gun right advocates, say.


Yeah, I'm still waiting for the first time gun owners raise their weapons in the interest of freedom. From all I can tell, the vocal pro-gun people are ale vocally pro status-quo.


I doubt the sheep are that ferocious.


I'm not sure of all the cases, but one of the major common factors seems to be possession of large amounts of cash. They're essentially saying that no one has a legitimate cause to hold thousands of dollars in cash, so they must be doing something illicit, so we have cause to take it.

It shouldn't be legal, but thanks to the drug war and post-9/11 anti-terrorism politics, it's been enabled by federal legislation and rules. It needs to get challenged more in the courts on constitutional grounds, but this takes money and time, which the usual victims don't have.

Also, they (the police) further complicate things by making it a civil asset forfeiture case against the property and not a civil or criminal case against the rightful owner.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/georgeleef/2014/09/12/time-for-c...


> They're essentially saying that no one has a legitimate cause to hold thousands of dollars in cash, so they must be doing something illicit, so we have cause to take it.

Think about it statistically. The standard is "more likely than not" the money is obtained illegally. If you pull over 100 people with large amounts of cash, what percentage obtained it illegally? If it's greater than 50%, then you can always seize the cash under that standard. You don't need to make the judgment that no one has a legitimate reason to carry that cash, just the weaker judgment that it's statistically unlikely that the cash is legitimate.


Arguments like this are why it's a good thing we don't base our criminal justice system on statistics.

"Innocent until proven guilty" is very different from "Guilty because most people in similar situations are guilty, so let's not bother to prove it in this case."

The cops would have a field day, for instance by arresting college students at random on the weekend because statistically most will test positive for controlled substances.


"Proof" by evidence is an inherently statistical process. E.g. cops find a DNA match between a suspect and skin cells found under a murder victim's fingernails under circumstances where it is clear she tried to fight off her attacker. Does that "prove" guilt? No, it proves that under similar circumstances, guilty is highly likely. The problem is not that the justice system is statistical. That's unavoidable. The problem is the unfortunate confluence of the low standard of proof ("more likely than not" versus "beyond a reasonable doubt") combined with the high ratio of illegal versus legal reasons for carrying large amounts of cash (i.e. a high prior odds ratio).


FWIW (Rayiner knows this, but maybe everyone else doesn't):

The concept of "proof of innocence" does not appear in the Constitution; it derives from common law, and the Latin word it comes from doesn't mean "prove" in the mathematical sense.

Which makes sense, because "innocent until formally proven guilty" doesn't make sense in a sentence that proceeds to "beyond a reasonable doubt".


And it's interesting, too, how often people go in the other direction, and seem to think "any shred of theory, however improbable, means you can't be found guilty", and attempt to try to classify it as "beyond any/all doubt".


Yes, but statistically analyzing the likelihood of guilt using given evidence is different than arbitrarily linking blanket cases where there is no defined connection. Just saying "cash is suspicious so we are allowed to seize it whenever we see a lot of it" is a blatant violation of property rights. There is absolutely no crime that can be linked directly to cash ownership.


> If you pull over 100 people with large amounts of cash, what percentage obtained it illegally? If it's greater than 50%, then you can always seize the cash under that standard.

That's an interesting question, but it's not obviously greater than 50%. Honestly, I don't think it's higher than 50% at all, but certainly it isn't so clearly higher that it should be accepted without evidence.


Not only that, but just because it's currently popular to pay with plastic or some other form of electronic transfer, it shouldn't "criminalize" cash.

I'm not a conspiracy nut but I can certainly see how someone who is could view this as an effort to legally coerce citizens into using only traceable methods of payment approved by commercial processors under the implication that something like cash or bitcoin would only be used by those trying to hide something.


> They're essentially saying that no one has a legitimate cause to hold thousands of dollars in cash, so they must be doing something illicit, so we have cause to take it.

IANAL, but I'd suspect that the usual logic goes: Usually a person carrying a large amount of cash is a criminal who got the cash illegally. So, anyone with a large amount of cash is likely a criminal, and we will treat them as such.

The gap here is that the person so treated need not have done anything wrong and are being prosecuted due to the crimes of others.

I doubt that there is a law saying that having $20,000 in cash is illegal.

So, if are going to prosecute Joe, then need to do so from something Joe did, and prove he did it. That most people with a lot of cash got the cash illegally doesn't mean that Joe did anything illegal, and there's no law against having a lot of cash.

I've learned my lesson: Often the police are enforcing social norms and attitudes instead of laws and are enforcing these against people who are not in the center of the respectable middle class.

E.g., since I'm doing a startup, I'm keeping down spending and driving an old car. Since the car still, with a lot of maintenance, is fine, I can keep driving it.

But recently I had occasion to go to a poor, largely Black, section of town. On the way out of that section, I was followed closely by a police car. I just drove in a very legal and normal way, and, by the time I was out of that section of town, the police car quit following me. But, I learned my lesson: At least with an old car, stay the heck out of a poor, Black area of town -- that's the real law.

More of the real law is to participate in church, JAYCEES, Lions, school board, be well known and liked, make contributions to political campaigns, contribute to the Fraternal Order of Police and any police charity drives, have some associated decals on the windows of my car, drive a late model, family car, dress well, no beard, hair short, be known to the local political power structure, etc. Be known to the police in my neighborhood. Ah, they didn't tell me such things in civics class.

For more, get rich and be a very anonymous donor to some legal efforts to mount well funded challenges to such highway robbery in the courts.

AFAIK, that's just basically how things work in the US. In some other countries, the citizen either (A) is too poor to have anything anyone would want to steal or (B) has some money and keeps paying off the political power guys.

Apparently that we could actually follow the Constitution seems to be mostly a long shot.

In the meanwhile, the power structure wants (A) bend the Constitution and slap down the drug dealers, and likely anyone else they don't like, so that when anyone looks at all suspicious just steal any of their valuables and (B) put up with excesses by the police, especially since the excesses are mostly toward poor people.

So, the real law is, for any poor and/or Black stopped by the police, look like the old movie character stepin fetchit, be passive, submissive, subordinate, subservient, obsequious, act like a harmless child, hang head, don't make eye contact, keep hands in plain view, make only slow motions, and let the egotistical, bully thugs, with their dark, aviator sun glasses, SS like uniforms with lots of shiny metal attachements, get their jollies and let the power structure be happy with an orderly rhythm to the community.

Otherwise the police have wide latitude to enforce the laws, act as prosecutor, judge, and jury, proscribe and execute sentences, all on the street, based just on anything, no charges, no due process, nothing. So, all with no due process at all, the police can embarrass, insult, humiliate innocent citizens, steal their valuables, insert things into their rectums and/or vaginas, beat them with clubs, shock them electrically, and, for any reason or no real reason, just shoot and kill them.

The power structure and the police can expect that some citizens will object.

Our Founding Fathers understood kings, dictators, secret police, bullies, thugs, etc. and gave us a good Constitution. We need to stop making incredibly contrived, complicated rationalizations why the very clear words in the Constitution don't mean what they very clearly do say.

Of course, the solution is democracy: When enough citizens get angry enough, there will be changes.

Another solution is a lot more video from smartphones, dash cams, etc.

And, just now, that the mainstream media (MSM) likes ad revenue from eyeballs and stories about scandal so much, the recent examples and video of police killing unarmed citizens has gotten a lot of attention. Now in courts, commonly a community with some police who went way too far gets slapped with a judgment of several million dollars.

So, any layer of government with a police force will need an insurance policy, and the rates will tend to show the risks. A police chief whose force causes such a several million dollar judgment will get to look for a new job far from police work. Or, money talks, and it will be talking loud and clear soon. And along the way, the increased attention may also stop the highway robbery.


As George Carlin said; your rights can be taken away whenever convenient. Thus, they are not really rights at all, but temporary privileges.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=m9-R8T1SuG4


Some rights are inalienable, so they cannot be taken away, just violated. The right to justice is one of those. The right to life. The right to free expression.

It's pretty obvious that they exist, otherwise nobody would really care about murder, rape, theft, fraud, lying, etc. So the burden of proof is on those that want to limit or deny inalienable rights.

George Carlin is hilarious (at least in general), but ironically gives abusers a lot of ammunition with this argument.


I think his intention wasn't so much to say this is a positive thing but rather to cynically (and humorously) point out that "rights" are a human construct and susceptible to all of the associated weaknesses in practice.

You can claim a right to something and if you can get enough people to agree with you, you can enforce someone's claim on the right to something. But it's not like there's a natural force that ensures, compels, or mandates these rights.

I guess my point is that taken less cynically, rights (as we understand them) only exist in practice as long as you can demand them and have sufficient power (whether through numbers or threat of force) to keep them. The sad reality is that without the continual effort to maintain these rights, they can and will be taken away.


> But it's not like there's a natural force that ensures, compels, or mandates these rights.

A lot of really well regarded philosophers throughout the ages have disagreed with that.

> I guess my point is that taken less cynically, rights... only exist [with] sufficient power

If I follow that line of thinking, justice is only an extension of power. I don't think people agree with that.

I don't believe you think that. Perhaps it's just a matter of phrasing; surely we both agree that it's important to recognize that people should never murder people. We use the word "right" because it's important to be absolute in this rule.

It's worth distinguishing between:

  * life is not a right
  * we don't have enough power to enforce murder laws
...the second case is preferable, even if it may be hard to distinguish between the two looking down the barrel of a gun. If you believe in a deity, the could be justice in the afterlife. If you don't, one can be justified in history, if nothing else. For example, we don't say it was OK for Thomas Jefferson to own slaves because the U.S. didn't have the votes to ban the practice altogether. We say the slaves had their rights violated, not that they didn't deserve freedom and dignity because nobody could guarantee it.

tl;dr To say there are no absolute rights is to say there are no absolute wrongs.


> To say there are no absolute rights is to say there are no absolute wrongs

There aren't any absolute rights or wrongs, there aren't any absolute morals at all; right and wrong is always a point of view and no one can lay claim to having the absolute and only correct ones.


> we don't say it was OK for Thomas Jefferson to own slaves (...) We say the slaves had their rights violated

You are confusing legality with morality. There isn't necessarily any connection.


I am speaking strictly morally (or ethically if you prefer). Jefferson obviously had the legal right to own slaves. The fact that the laws themselves were unjust is my point.


They are unjust by modern morality, morality changes over time, it is not absolute.


It's more like morality is unchanged (Justify something other than: 'do unto others', without falling back on an obviously illogical subjective value system) but society's dirty excuses for immorality change.


> Some rights are inalienable, so they cannot be taken away, just violated.

Perhaps meaningful in the abstract, but a meaningless distinction in practice.

> It's pretty obvious that they exist, otherwise nobody would really care about murder, rape, theft, fraud, lying, etc.

That does not follow. There are in fact people who don't care about those things; that some people do does not mean inalienable rights somehow exist as anything more than social norms.

> So the burden of proof is on those that want to limit or deny inalienable rights.

No, the burden of proof of any claim of existence is always on the one claiming something does exist; proving something doesn't exist is not logically possible as there's always somewhere you can't look (the universe is big) and thus an invalid statement not subject to the burden of proof because it's wrong to claim at all.


> Some rights are inalienable, so they cannot be taken away, just violated.

The concept of inalienable rights is a moral axiom accepted by some (sort of like the existence of a God with certain preferences, in fact, many conceptions of inalienable rights are specifically beliefs about the existence of a God with specific preferences); its not a material fact or a supportable conclusion.

And, of course, people who agree that inalienable rights exist disagree on what those rights are (even those that agree on the names of inalienable rights disagree on the definitions of the rights that those name attach to.)

> It's pretty obvious that they exist, otherwise nobody would really care about murder, rape, theft, fraud, lying, etc.

The fact that some people care about these things establishes that those people have certain moral preferences; it doesn't establish the existence of inalienable rights (in fact, many of the people who do care about these things do so based on justifications other than inalienable rights.)


> its not a material fact or a supportable conclusion

Of course, the same argument apply to the axiom that the rights don't exist.

However, there is a lot of weight to the argument that there is a common list of universally reprehensible wrongs (murder, rape, etc.). Inferring rights from those wrongs is reasonable and doesn't require much in way of explaining where they come from.

I'm not sure why people are so eager to disprove the existence of rights, to be honest. The wholesale embrace of moral nihilism seems empirically worse. Or at least, more conservatively, empirically untested and therefore risky.


> Of course, the same argument apply to the axiom that the rights don't exist

Rights aren't material things, they don't exist in any external sense in any case. A "right" (in the moral, rather than legal, sense), inalienable or otherwise, is a just a statement of someone's moral preference. Clearly, these moral preferences exist in people, and, equally clearly, they differ between people.

> However, there is a lot of weight to the argument that there is a common list of universally reprehensible wrongs (murder, rape, etc.).

No, there's not. Well, I mean, sure, its tautologically true (and unsurprisingly widely accepted) that murder, in the sense of wrongful killing, is wrong.

OTOH, when you try to look for some common universal definition of when killing is wrongful, there's a lot less agreement. (The same is true of the other examples you've named, in the parent on great-grandparent posts.)

So, you've got some vague agreement that there are common names from wrongs, but the actual definitions of the wrongs with those names is different. That doesn't really support all that much of a common idea of wrongs implying a common idea of rights.

> I'm not sure why people are so eager to disprove the existence of rights, to be honest.

I'm not so interested in disproving the existence of rights as in getting people to understand that invoking the idea of "inalienable rights" doesn't really, outside of providing a rhetorical flourish, accomplish anything. Because the existence, and even moreso the definition, of those rights is not universally shared, what the invocation invariably amounts to is a circular argument where the supposedly inalienable right in question is defined in precisely the way needed to support the position the person is arguing for.

Which is perfectly convincing if you already agreed with the conclusion, but entirely unconvincing, if you did not.

"Why should we do (or refrain from doing) X? Because Y is an inalienable right and includes within its scope a mandate to do (or refrain from doing) X." Is just not a meaningful argument.

Unless the discussion is among people who have already agreed to the definition of Y being used.


The thing is, saying "X is inalienable" doesn't help anything either. In fact, I feel it hurts to think of it that way because rights only exist in such a way as we make them exist. Cold objective reality doesn't care, nor does a dictator.

We need to reframe rights as a promise to care and ability to help. As in, you can say you've got a right to free speech all you want but it's not until I stand with you that you're actually safer.

Human rights, if you must, would be the code that the average human would care about enough to fight for.


> Some rights are inalienable

He addresses that. A right has to be granted by someone. Who grants these inalienable rights? If you answer is "God", or "they just are", your thinking is circular.

If your answer is "the government/state", you are wrong. The government/state grants you this "right", and takes it away as it pleases, so it is actually not inalienable.

TLDR; An inalienable right that is systematically violated is not very inalienable, is it?


It's usually used against people who don't have the means to mount a legal challenge, in amounts that are too small to be worthwhile for a lawyer to pursue yet that can put the victim in such dire financial straits that they're struggling to stay off the streets let alone hire a lawyer.


I'm not aware of a case making it far enough, but I could be wrong. It's a tough one because in most cases, I believe, the seized property is not worth enough to warrant a case making it to the Supreme Court. I would be interested seeing if a class-action would be possible.

But I've often wondered how this could stand up to constitutional muster. I believe one of the arguments is that the criminal case isn't against you, but the property that was seized from you. So if it wants to push the case, your seized $1000 can sue.


It's a tough one because in most cases, I believe, the seized property is not worth enough to warrant a case making it to the Supreme Court.

When they do run into someone with enough gumption and resources to appeal, they immediately drop the charges against the money and return it minus fees, just to prevent the creation of specific precedent against the practice.


That assumes they are working in concert, and it's not a big set of affiliated but largely separate organizations working in their own best interests. I think it's far more likely that it's not cost effective to fight for the police if the person they seized from is motivated, unless really large amounts are at stake, in which case the possibility it was entirely legal is probably somewhat lessened, so the case isn't brought forth.


The symphony plays without a conductor. We're talking about a system that presents a particular set of incentives to parties with particular motivations. They can work perfectly well in concert without resorting to secret cabal meetings. In law enforcement more than most other professions, those who do something different are punished for it. That's all it takes for LEO practice to be trapped in some truly sub-optimal local maxima, such as that under consideration here.

Hanlon's Razor is bullshit, by the way.


I'm not making a case that they aren't incentivized enough to all do roughly the same thing in the normal case, but that there isn't enough disincentive to, as a whole, make sure that they would never allow a case to go forward. The Police chiefs are largely beholden to no-one in this specific case.

That said, it's the prosecutors that would have to keep the case active if disputed, and there's no incentive for them, except for a possible loss in the case where police overreach is proven. That's all the reason needed to not dispute most cases if they go far enough to actually require some work from the prosecutor.

> Hanlon's Razor is bullshit, by the way.

You and I live in different world then. Obviously, some portion of our worlds is entirely in our heads and doesn't conform to reality. I suspect I'm happier in mine than I would be in yours.


[deleted]


Who are "they", where are those people with these hidden agenda? The companies? Where some of us works and just try to do theie job. The politicans? Who cannot agree about anything but somehow figured out an hidden agenda where they secretly betray us. The Illuminati?

"I used to assume there were people in charge who knew what they were doing, who planned how things in society should work. As I got a little older I got more cynical, believing these people were trying to keep the rest of us dumb with shoddy schooling and mind-numbing entertainment, in the hopes they could get away with whatever it is powerful people are always trying to get away with.

Then as I got even older I realized that the people in charge are as clueless as the rest of us. Like our software, our society just kind of happened over the years and it’s always on the verge of coming tumbling down. Nobody really knows what they’re doing or what they’re talking about.

If you can get over the sheer terror of that thought, it’s actually quite liberating." Nick Bradbury


I am looking for any SC verdicts justifying this horrendous Nazi styles practice. I am unable to find any, so I think this law is open to challenge.

Here is a brilliant John Stossel episode about this law and how it is destroying so many innocent people.

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJ399EBlqBE 2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DiGRMD4NXVA


I think mechanism is a better lens to use than spirit of the law, especially since the US Constitution is framed with distrust toward the government, and a favoring for mechanism as a leash.

What are the mechanisms or processes by which we expect to be protected? Since this is a civil case, one would have to hire a lawyer with their own money.


The legal rationale is the one for civil forfeiture. Namely they sue the possession, not you. The possession has no rights. And you have no standing in said lawsuit unless you survive an uphill battle to prove that you actually owned the possession in question.

Ever tried to prove that you really own the money in your wallet?


Federal Reserve Notes are bearer instruments. If my wallet has any indication of who owns it, the presumption is that the owner of the wallet is the bearer.

If you really want to get hairy, put the cash in an unmarked envelope and put it on the front seat of a car owned by someone other than the driver. Now prove who owns it.


Many, many forfeiture cases demonstrate that the reasonable presumption is not actually made by our system. For example many look like, "Person tries to board a plane. TSA finds money on person, seizes it, sues the money with no case made against the person."


> Many, many forfeiture cases demonstrate that the reasonable presumption is not actually made by our system. For example many look like, "Person tries to board a plane. TSA finds money on person, seizes it, sues the money with no case made against the person."

The structure of asset forfeiture laws requires that the action be formally against the property. They also require both specific notice of people with specified relations to the property which indicate probable ownership, and public notice, so that any persons with ownership interests in the property can intervene in the action and have the opportunity to contest the governments claims against the property.


Yes, yes. I know the legal fiction. You can find it well-described at https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/forfeiture.

But my description of how it actually happens is still valid. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/06/30/why-t... for a recent case where exactly this happened. And it links to 3 other cases where money was seized from travelers, with no criminal charge ever being filed against anyone. In all 4 of these cases a person tried to board a plane, TSA finds money, seizes it, sues the money, and no case is made against the person. In none of the cases did the person get said money back. (The main conflict over where it goes in most cases is that a couple of dozen different government agencies argue about how to divide it up.)

The most unusual trait connecting these cases is that there was publicity about it. It happens so often that reporters usually don't bother to write about them.

The problem is that legal standard is that the government merely has to establish "reasonable suspicion that there was a crime", while the person has to establish "a preponderance of evidence that there was not". This reverses "innocent until proven guilty." How do you establish a preponderance of evidence that no crime happened when no specific crime was ever alleged? It is effectively impossible.

This story from a year ago on the front page establishes the shift in standards quite well: http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2014/02/ci.... A quick summary is that a couple was indicted of a crime and successfully defended themselves. In the process the government seized a home through civil forfeiture, and the forfeiture stood because the couple was unable to prove that the crime did not happen.

(Unlike the cases that I'm describing above, in this case a specific crime was alleged. Normally the TSA just claims something like, "there was a smell of marijuana" and you have no way to prove that there wasn't.)


> And it links to 3 other cases where money was seized from travelers, with no criminal charge ever being filed against anyone.

If the people from whom the property was seized were denied (or not notified of) their rights to contest the forfeiture action, that would be something to be upset about. I don't see why we should be upset that the government took civil action without filing criminal charges; the civil burden of proof is lower than the criminal burden of proof because things like imprisonment, execution, loss of voting rights, etc., aren't on the table with similar actions; consequently, the level of evidence with which it makes sense to initiate criminal process is different than that for which it makes sense to initiate civil process.

> The problem is that legal standard is that the government merely has to establish "reasonable suspicion that there was a crime", while the person has to establish "a preponderance of evidence that there was not".

The initial seizure proceeds based on reasonable suspicion, but the goverinnment has the burden of proof to show, by preponderance of the evidence, that the seized property is subject to forfeiture under the law.

(The owner may have the burden of proof for defenses that apply to prevent forfeiture of property that is otherwise subject to forfeiture, such as the "innocent owner" defense, where the property was subject to forfeiture because of its relation to a prohibited act, but the owner was uninvolved in the act.)

> A quick summary is that a couple was indicted of a crime and successfully defended themselves. In the process the government seized a home through civil forfeiture, and the forfeiture stood because the couple was unable to prove the crime did not happen.

Er, no. What that source reports on is not that at all. It reports on the couple being indicted of a crime, and, as a consequence of the indictment, property that would (according to the government) be forfeitable under criminal forfeiture (which has the criminal burden of proof) being seized so that it would be preserved. The couple, arguing that the seizure order was overly broad, sought a hearing on whether the seizure was in error, arguing that the broad seizure impaired their right to counsel of their choosing for the criminal trial; this is what the Supreme Court turned down.

This isn't a case about civil forfeiture (the original seizure was to protect civil forfeiture, but the appeal was about the broader seizure under the superceding indictment which was to protect assets targeted for criminal forfeiture), it doesn't address a target acquitted of a crime and where forfeiture still occurred (this does happen in civil forfeiture, but this isn't an example), and it doesn't have anything to do with the owner not being able to prove a crime didn't happen.


First, the reason to be concerned about civil forfeiture is well stated at http://uclawreview.org/2014/04/29/criminal-forfeiture-is-tak.... The problem is that we introduced it for a specific purpose, and over time the laws have been used expansively and creatively against an ever growing category of people and businesses many of which bear no obvious relationship to organized crime.

I believe that this long ago crossed the line to being actually used as civil rights abuse.

On this case, you're mostly right. The seizure happened under civil forfeiture law, a the second paragraph of The Economist article makes that clear. So this really is a question about civil forfeiture law. But it is tied to a potential criminal civil forfeiture.


> The seizure happened under civil forfeiture law, a the second paragraph of The Economist article makes that clear.

The initial seizure happened because property was targetted for civil forfeiture, the expanded seizure happened because property was targetted for criminal forfeiture, the request for a pre-trial hearing (which was denied leading to the series of appeals that ultimately reached the Supreme Court) was for a challenge to the criminal forfeiture action.

The question addressed in the Supreme Court case was about criminal, not civil forfeiture.


They get around it by claiming your house or car (or whatever) is guilty of a crime. Unfortunately, inanimate objects can't represent themselves in court.


AKA Civil Forfeiture. John Oliver did an episode on this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kEpZWGgJks


Shucks you beat me to it. This was about a year go... It's only now that main stream media is picking up on this scam by the police.

This type of aggressive policing (excessive jaywalking tickets) was also happening in Ferguson.

We know how that turned out...


As much as I like to beat on the MSM, they did pick it up; plenty of major publications (the Economist, the New Yorker, USA Today, Forbes, the WSJ, PBS, NPR, and many more) had articles on it before John Oliver's episode.

Sarah Stillman's article for the New Yorker, Taken, is particularly good, as well as depressing: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/08/12/taken


We cannot expect the world to become more sane. We must ourselves engineer our way out of it. We will engineer our way out of surveillance with encryption. We will engineer our way our of highway seizure with bitcoin (or a similar tech). If does seem bad now, but we will solve it and we will solve it without needing to convince others it's broken.


We may or may not solve it with engineering, but one thing I've become increasingly certain of is we won't solve it by convincing others it's broken. For decades Freedom of Speech was sacrosanct, and now we have a whole generation that rejects it out of hand and feels they have the right to control others speech, even trivially "offensive" speech.

Bitcoin and other engineering efforts, however, have great potential.


The author's reference to Morris' high-end/low-end classification of states and absolute preference for centralization seems simplistic and out of touch with economic research on the topic.

I think Elinor Ostrom (the only female recipient of the Nobel Prize in economics to date) provides a much more useful framework for evaluating institutional design. In some cases centralization works and in others decentralization is preferable, but a very important component that gets left out of Morris' dichotomy is the role that jurisdictional overlap plays in forcing centralized and decentralized institutions to compete against each other and ultimately provide better outcomes than either could independently.


I was arrested while hiking and acquitted because I did nothing wrong. But the police never returned my expensive sun glasses or my expensive optical water purifier. "We don't have them."


Ah, sorry to hear the pigs robbed you. Happens to the best of us.

I'll also observe that you probably had to spend cash on a lawyer in order to prove your innocence.


Making a call from the jailhouse is exorbitantly expensive too.


It seems pretty clear to me the problem here is misaligned incentives. If the police weren't allowed to keep seized money, and where it did end up was disconnected enough, there would be little reason to confiscate property without due cause.

Where we could redirect the money that it didn't cause problems is an interesting question, and I'm not sure I know of an answer that doesn't create other considerable problems.


Why redirect it at all? It's evidence. Put it in a bag, and store it. Nobody gets to spend it until a case is closed.


I obviously mean after it's no longer in dispute, you can't purposefully destroy/lose evidence. After any case is closed, the property should either be returned, or dispensed with in a way that doesn't incentivize wrongful collection of property in the first place.


http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/03/ret..., "The use of mercenaries in warfare has a very long history—much longer, in fact, than the almost-exclusive deployment of national militaries to wage wars. Before the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 ended Europe's Thirty Years' War and marked the rise of the modern state system, medieval powers from kings to popes routinely hired private fighters to do battle for them. As state governments sought a monopoly on the use of force within their territories in the 17th century, however, they moved to stamp out violence by non-state actors, including mercenaries, driving the industry underground."

The Peace of Westphalia, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_of_Westphalia, "… was a series of peace treaties signed between May and October 1648 … established … a new system of political order in central Europe, later called Westphalian sovereignty, based upon the concept of co-existing sovereign states … General recognition of the exclusive sovereignty of each party over its lands, people, and agents abroad, and responsibility for the warlike acts of any of its citizens or agents. Issuance of unrestricted letters of marque and reprisal to privateers was forbidden."


I'd add that mercenaries were around, and were a serious problem, from the Late Middle Ages to 1648; some accounts I've read of the Hundred Years' War sound almost exactly like accounts of the Thirty Years' War 300 years later. France, like the Germanies, was reduced to a heap of ruins -- and not just because of the bubonic plague.


Perfect example of this [1]: A poker player carrying a large amount of cash is pulled over. The cops not only seize his $167,000 poker bankroll, but his vehicle, laptop, and cell phone. They then tell him that he is "free to go" and leave him by the side of the road in the middle of the desert with $192 in cash and no cell phone.

[1] http://www.cardplayer.com/poker-news/19177-hawaii-man-fights...


More in-depth investigation by the Washington Post from 2014:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/2014/09/06/st...


I'd prefer a seize and destroy policy for contraband over the current system of prosecution. For stuff like heroin or cocaine there doesn't even need to be much of a system for recovery, for prescription pills and the like there probably does, but I think there are some bright lines that can be drawn there.

Cash and other legal property should not be seized without a warrant though.


Serious question. We're all problem solvers here. There has got to be a better way to get our elected leaders to pay more immediate attention to blatantly immoral and unconstitutional stuff like this.

As developers and engineers we should come up with a technology to force issue on things like this. I'm pretty tired of reading a story like this and feeling helpless to change it,


elected leaders

There's your problem. Why are you electing people? That's completely backwards. Electing people is allocating labor and incurring production costs without evaluating demand signals. It is ideas that must be debated and voted on, and have people fill in to execute them. Only by having information on what policy is desired will you able to properly apportion the production costs and allocate the representative labor in fulfilling said policy. Otherwise you suffer from principal-agent problems in having to trust proxies to execute their ideas, with the proxies you are capable of electing being highly limited in their ideological diversity by result of optimizing for the wrong information.


So direct democracy then? That presents it's own problems like the majority being in favor of something horrible, like the internment of muslim citizens after a terrorist attack.


That's a misrepresentation of what direct democracy is. You're still bound by a framework of statutory and common law, along with oversight from the various branches of government. It's not mob rule.

Not to mention unjust internment already occurred despite representative democracy (in fact directly emanating from elected executive power), that of Italians, Germans and Japanese during WWII. Let's also not discount land law acts and a host of other attacks on civil liberties.


But if the majority are in favour of horrible things, then will they not elect horrible leaders as well?

And are we not just relying on elected leaders not doing horrible things anyway?


The essence of a representative republic is that these horrible leaders would still be checked by the minority of non-horrible leaders.

In a direct democracy, the mob only needs 51% of the referendum. In representative government, a minority of representatives can prevent disastrous legislation from happening, through the threat of filibuster or by holding a more valuable (to the opposition) bill hostage.

In 2009 when Democrats held a Congressional majority, they didn't get everything they wanted. Now in 2015, Republicans hold a Congressional majority, they still don't get everything they wanted. Whichever side you're on, you must admit that these checks prevented the "bad guys" from prevailing.


Please, get some downsides that are not shared with representative democracy. Because, you know, people are comparing those two.


We each can only elect two people to represent our interest in Congress.


Get out there and join political organizations. Another website just isn't going to change things.



In the US, there are two major political parties. Those who oppose this kind of garbage need to join both of them (one side per person). Also, you need to be active at a local and state level, not just a national one.


I don't know twitter is "just a website" and it's helped change lots of things all over the world, so......


Twitter's influence in politics is not really the result of the programmers' efforts. It's the result of the politically active people using it.

The Twitter platform is at best necessary but not sufficient for its effects. But lots of things are in the same boat. All basic utilities are required for twitter to work, but you wouldn't credit food, waste, and electric companies for such things. And at worst, Twitter isn't even necessary.


@Retra A tool is always only as good as the person using it. The point is webstites and IT can make a difference.


"If you believe -- as many economists do -- that the rule of law is a key determinant of a nation’s prosperity, then you should be worried about this. Stop-and-seize should be stopped."

A good book that talks about this is "The Locus Effect" http://www.amazon.com/Locust-Effect-Poverty-Requires-Violenc...


Its a booming business for the states and law enforcement. The stats don't lie. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_forfeiture_in_the_United...


Scenario: You're on the jury of a person accused of killing an undercover policeman who tried to deprive them of their suitcase full of cash. We can't know if the cash was illegally obtained, as they are not on trial nor will the government charge them for any crimes that would connect the cash to a crime. They're only saying the undercover policeman was attempting to make a civil forfeiture. We can't know whether the undercover identified himself to the defendant, because he's dead. There's no evidence that the defendant should have been able to know the deceased was an officer.

How are you inclined to find for the accused?


Why is this a bad thing? We don't want to pay ANY taxes, so this way only THE BAD PEOPLE pay to fund the municipalities that do this. ARE YOU A BAD PERSON? OR ARE YOU ONE OF THOSE TAX US TO DEATH PEOPLE?

Obviously I'm not serious in what I wrote above. The serious point I want to make is that this is one of the many unintended side-effects of the whole 'lower taxes for the sake of lower taxes' movement. Don't say I didn't warn ya.


They should realize this implementation of the law is a moral hazard and it should be avoided.


Actually, the core problem is that when (usually) white, middle-class America sees a police boot on someone's face their instinct is to say, "Well, I guess he deserved it." This is particularly the case for working middle-class mothers. Based on anecdotal conversations, when they see a story about the police shooting an unarmed man in the back, they think, "Well, the guy was probably going to grab someone's little girl and take her hostage." When confronted with stories where the cop was undeniably wrong, they say, "Oh just a bad apple."

Another problem is when (usually) black America sees a police boot on someone's face, and notes that statistically it's usually a black face, and their instinct is to say, "Well, I guess it was because he was black." When confronted with stories where the face is white, they say nothing.

This breaks my heart. We should never allow a police boot on anyone's face for any reason. The police are public servants, our servants, there to keep the peace, and stop violence from happening. They are not the punishers - that is the role of the court. They are not above the law - they need to hold themselves to a higher standard of conduct. The police should be the best of us, but instead we get low-to-average intelligence physically large men who can keep themselves clean and fit, fill out basic paperwork, and who can follow orders. Emboldened by the attitudes of white, middle-class women that "cracking heads" is a sign of order, also a sign of machismo, and absent any authority to stop it, it continues, and it gets worse.

Now, cops go out on a disturbance call, escalate it to violence, and then they 'hurt the bad guys' - cracks some heads, throw 'em in jail. The cop moves on, but 'the bad guys' keep getting hurt, in local lock up, by a justice system that will never hear their case, and then for years by a privatized penal system that takes every economic and social advantage of the prisoner that it legally can.

What we have now is a police force whose individual instinct and unmet need for "respect" (actually, dominance) drives their decisions. No-one can stop them. The police have each other's backs. The judiciary has the backs of the police. And the voters are split between two very different, very wrong reactions to the problem - which takes back seat to things like "the economy" and "abortion" in every election.

Right now, the best we can do is tell the stories of the people who've been harmed by the police. We need to focus on white, middle-class people, to address both mistaken instincts. We need to fund independent police-malpractice commissions with real teeth, to investigate allegations of wrong-doing. More than anything, we need to reform the way police work is done, making it illegal, for example, for a uniformed cop to coerce a suspect, to lie about the law, or to escalate a situation. We need a "broken windows" policy applied to the police where even small breaches of policy - words of disrespect, for example - trigger a reprimand. We need to ask ourselves why cops swarm on every encounter with a citizen, why they have their hand on their gun when they walk up to your car, why they beat people up so much and get away with it.


> Another problem is when (usually) black America sees a police boot on someone's face, and notes that statistically it's usually a black face, and their instinct is to say, "Well, I guess it was because he was black." When confronted with stories where the face is white, they say nothing.

This is nonsense that you're using to generate a false equivalence. White American media has absolutely no interest in what black people have to say about anything but black, race-related issues. An (assumed by me) claim that lack of media coverage proves that individual black people aren't saying anything about incidents of police abuse of white people is offensive. Without that claim, it's just completely made up. Letting it go may save your poor heart some sorrow.


If that's true, that's great. I would love to see more (well, any) black leaders talk about police brutality in general, and not in relation to race. Do you have any links? In truth, every time I've seen anyone speak in front of TV cameras about the police, it's always about race. Maybe it is selection bias. But somehow, I don't think so.


You're the one who made the claim. I'm the one that said that you had absolutely no evidence for the claim, and that you created it to fit your rhetoric.

> But somehow, I don't think so.

Reason by whimsy?


The police are public servants, our servants, there to keep the peace, and stop violence from happening.

They are public servants, but not "our servants" - such a possessive pronoun implies the police are obligated to protecting individuals comprising a populace. They are not (Castle Rock v. Gonzales). Rather, they exist to enforce some relative order as defined by a state entity in the jurisdiction the police is beholden to. As a result, they enforce policies favorable to a state, not to a community. If the latter was the goal, then policing would be a decentralized per-neighborhood activity with rules of conduct set by the neighborhood or community. In practice, this means police forces fundamentally must operate through a system of fear, intimidation and coercion in their enforcing of standards that are non-negotiable by the subordinate community. It should then come as no surprise they are increasingly militarized, since their structure lends itself to paramilitary.

Police forces then are optimized precisely for people who are not "the best of us", since there is no particular requirement for anything but systematized and mechanical use of intimidation to control populations and curtail protests.


I refuse to accept this as a forgone conclusion. Clearly there is a place for a healthy, helpful police force in modern society. It's probably not even that far from what we have - the key being the "broken windows" policy applied to the police themselves, and some critical changes in policy (making it illegal to lie about the law, or to coerce behavior based on a misrepresentation of the law). And of course, reforming the justice system to give citizens the kind of justice our founding fathers intended to give them.

Technologies ability to record interactions and play them back later has already had a (positive) impact on police behavior, and I can only see that getting better.

I also think that technology will revolutionize the justice system - I've been thinking a lot about what a distributed, remote jury trial system would look like, especially when there is excellent sensor data surrounding any contentious event.


great comment


The real solution to this is not to reform civil forfeiture law but to pass legislation that makes sure that seized property is held in escrow and destroyed if a court decides that it does not revert to the owner.

If police/municipalities can't profit from forfeiture and have to pay real costs for exercising it, it will disappear.


I disagree with the author's attitude towards mercenaries operating in foreign countries. Having read "The Modern Mercenary", by former Blackwater merc, Sean McFate, I am fully convinced that mercenaries have a desirable and necessary place in future conflicts.

Take Afghanistan for example. It is a nation at a major geographic crossroads that truly acts as a set of tribes and alliances, not a Westphalian-style state that is Westerners think ought to be the standard. That's why no matter how much "nation building" we do, nothing succeeds.

Instead, as McFate argues, we should have mercenaries prevent groups like al Qaeda from using that space to plan attacks on American soil, instead of spending political capital on forever wars. Mercenaries will be seen as a foreign defense mechanism against terrorism, like what we see the TSA doing at home. (Disagree with their tactics all you want, but they have stopped some bombings).


Anyone can plan an attack on America in their kitchen. It sounds like you're describing a paramilitary group that can fly anywhere in the world, violate whatever sovereignty they please, bust in through the window, and what, just shoot people that they're pretty sure are up to no good?

The principle of sovereignty is more important than placating America's paranoia, regardless of whether people think that a country is too disorganized to deserve the right to not have other countries airdropping their soldiers into it.


Some of the places that host terrorists arent countries, they're messes. They do not have anything close to a Westphalian state, they are a regional coalition of tribes and alliances that call themselves a country for a UN vote and IMF funding. Libya, Iraq, Afganistan, the list goes on.

National militaries are there to solve problems, but in the long run, only mercenaries can contain them.

It's not just America either. Ethiopia and Kenya would be much better off paying mercenaries that keep somalia's disfunction and terrorism at bay. You can fly in, bomb, invade, whatever, but eventually it becomes a politically unsustainable war.

Mercenaries are just an expense, and they know it.


Libya, Iraq, Afganistan, the list goes on.

Afghanistan has had problems for some time, but Libya and Iraq both functioned as nations before ill-advised adventurism on the part of Western powers. This "list goes on" shit is particularly chilling to those who value peace, life, and national solvency. What other functioning nations must be broken to feed the military-industrial complex?


> ill-advised adventurism on the part of Western powers

Let keep the picture clear: ill-advised by the USA. It was the USA who wanted the conflicts and did everything in their power to 'persuade' their allies to bomb along.

It was all lies and just see what we got in return.


You are correct about Iraq.

With respect to Libya, memories seem suspiciously short. For a long time Obama was uninterested in Libyan regime change. (I suspect because the generals were so sure it would be easy, which set off alarm bells, but none of that was ever made public.) For personal reasons that no one could discern, "French celebrity philosopher" Bernard-Henri Lévy was rabidly pro-war, and lobbied constantly for it. For reasons that probably make sense if one is French, both the French public and Nicolas Sarkozy found his case convincing enough to take the lead and let the USA "follow". (That lasted about a week, because France, but whatever.)


I stand corrected, my memory about Libya was hazy.


Not only the US, I'm afraid. The German government wants to wage more wars, too. For "humanitarian reasons" and also bananas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86ELBWLNdmg (this is an official propaganda video of the German military, not satire)


I understand that you don't consider them countries. What I'm saying is "they're a mess" is not a bright line over which you can revoke the people living there's rights of sovereignty.


> Some of the places that host terrorists arent countries, they're messes.

Even if that might be seen by some as a valid argument for violating the sovereignty of those (non-)states, it remains entirely orthogonal to the question of wether the intervening forces should be private sector or public. The only connection is that an (alleged) anarchy zone is the only place where the extralegal nature of private sector violence can be glossed over.

The author is literally a solution looking for a problem and abusing the most troubled places on earth as an excuse to turn military grade violence into a business.


Bullshit. I am sure the ~100k mercenaries in Iraq did a great job of stopping al Queada.

In fact mercenaries seem to encourage terrorism because they tend to be responsible for abuses and unlawful killings on foreign soil. Mercenaries were responsible for a lot of the abuses that happened in Iraq.

And I how you get to the parallel between the TSA and merceneries is beyond me. The TSA are government employees strictly subject to the law and with very limited powers. What in the world do they have to do with mercenaries?


> Disagree with their tactics all you want, but they have stopped some bombings

Genuine question, because I have a casual interest here, but don't claim exhaustive knowledge - can you cite examples?

Kevin Brown in 2008 was arrested for carrying bomb-making components, but a later FBI report found that he was carrying no initiators, explosives, or explosive devices.

Am I missing any other cases?


>Mercenaries will be seen as a foreign defense mechanism against terrorism, like what we see the TSA doing at home.

The TSA is killing people and without trial at that?


You think Mercenaries are good based on a book written by a mercenary?

Thats like believing GMO corn is good based on a book by Monsato. Or that fracking is good based on a book by some company that builds fracking equipment


The self-interest involved inherently says absolutely nothing about the argument being made. The only thing that does that, is the argument in question, it stands alone.

Anything else is bias no different than the kind you're trying to point at Monsanto or XYZ fracking company.


The argument can't be evaluated without context, and a biased source will not provide context that aids an unbiased evaluation.


This is the Republican Dream. Shifting taxes to states then to localities and finally to each group within the locality. As the nation moves farther and farther to the right expect the to happen in every state and local agency out there.



This is great. Best line is, "Home Depot™ Presents the Police!®."


In this supposed Dream, who would pay for the missiles and bombs? We've got to destroy developing nations on a regular basis! Republicans actually agree completely with your preference for top-down central control.


> As the nation moves farther and farther to the right

But it isn't, the right is dying, it's a party largely made up of old white people and rich people. They've gained power by gerrymandering to hide the fact that the population is growing ever more liberal every year.


Joe Biden is a republican? Didn't you vote for him in the last two elections?


Nope, I voted for Ronald Reagan, (praise be his name), the architect of the New American Constitution.


> As the nation moves farther and farther to the right

What country do you live in? Surely it can't be the US, who has been enacting very leftist policies for a while now, who has had a leftist president for almost eight years now, whose youth is advocating for a self-identified "democratic socialist" for president, and the country where the most popular republican candidate by far is a centrist RINO.


Who are you referring to? Trump and Carson are both pretty far right of center (both are pursuing massively reduced taxes, and Trump takes an extreme (even by GOP standards) view on preventing illegal immigration.


[flagged]


Please don't post unsubstantive comments here.


Nice straw-man, but I'm an anarchist and an atheist.

If you believe it's heading right, I would love to see your arguments, or you can choose to stay at the kids table and continue calling people names.


The term leftist is derogatory slang used by conservatives, who's calling who names? The word you're looking for is liberal. However, you're correct, the country is swinging left, not right as a population, but the right has seized power at the state level with gerrymandering so the states are swinging right even as the populace swings more left.


It seems unlikely that an anarchist would use the term "RINO" except as a joke. Anarchists reject the entire ridiculous Coke-vs-Pepsi circus. One who can actually see daylight between Democrats and Republicans is too in love with the status quo to reject its arbitrary authority.


>It seems unlikely that an anarchist would use the term "RINO" except as a joke. Anarchists reject the entire ridiculous Coke-vs-Pepsi circus

Rejecting the fact that a red team vs blue team dynamic exists is denying the political reality of the time. I used the term RINO because it accurately describes Trump, a centrist who is using the R next to his name as a way to get more votes rather than an indication of his beliefs.


...denying the political reality of the time.

Yes let's do that. We're anarchists after all, so we're allowed to step back and see the forest. D gets elected, the government spends more money, some oppressed group becomes slightly less so, the rest of us become slightly more so, we bomb some benighted Asian locale. R gets elected, the government spends more money, some oppressed group becomes slightly less so, the rest of us become slightly more so, we bomb some benighted "developing" locale. D gets elected...

This is literally every presidential administration in my lifetime and in my parents' lifetimes. What "dynamic" could possibly merit attention, which changes so little?


John Oliver explains it pretty well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kEpZWGgJks


It's interesting that "conservatives" and "freedom loving people" become pretty OK with tyrannical practices as long as they are practiced on some undesirable group. "Don't tread on me" becomes "Don't tread on me, tread on the brown people instead."


Some do. I don't.


there was a recent discussion about this from Cato: http://www.cato.org/multimedia/daily-podcast/policing-profit...

here's the web site by the people who gave the talk (the paper is downloadable from the right margin) http://ij.org/report/policing-for-profit/


Democracy has been bastardized over the past 150+ years to the extent that governments are now effectively nothing more than organized criminal organizations. Police serve as the enforcing arm of these organizations.


In the US 150+ years ago democracy meant "rule of white men." I'd say it has improved in that regard.


Insofar as representative democracy is concerned, it has always fundamentally incurred the inefficiencies caused by the principal-agent problem and diseconomies of scale. This might have been a reasonable trade-off before the advent of modern communication infrastructure, but the model is highly anachronistic by now. The fact that electoral districts operate under a majoritarian basis ensuring party dichotomy per Duverger's law then only makes the case even worse.


Ugh, so much misinformation. Having lurked here for a while HN seems to think civil forfeiture is the boogie man. To clarify a few things, at least on the county level:

1) There are always drugs when property is seized this way. I review every single civil forfeiture in a rather large county, and the affidavits officers submit read something like: "I stopped Bob after an informant purchased a large amount of heroin from Bob, Bob had syringes, heroin, weed, a scale for weighing drugs etc... on his person, and a rolled up wade of bills". The money is then seized as proceeds of prohibited conduct.

2) IT IS NOT DIFFICULT TO CONTEST A CIVIL FORFEITURE. The defendant is given a single piece of paper, that is insanely easy to understand, and simply has to sign the paper saying the forfeited property is not proceeds of a crime. They then have to appear in court, before a judge, and demonstrate this fact. The bar is not high, but I have never once seen this happen.

3) The money does not all go directly to the seizing agency. Much of it goes towards drugs programs, oversight for civil forfeitures, and other programs. See, for example: http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/131A.360

Perhaps at the federal level things work very differently and the process is abused, but every time I see these articles it really feels like an anomaly of a story is used to paint an entire program as being demonic, with little to no data to back up the conclusion.

edited for clarity, the statutory language is "prohibited conduct" not "criminal activity"


> To clarify a few things, at least on the county level: > I review every single civil forfeiture in a rather large county

Which county is that, and is your county representative of all counties in the US?

> the affidavits officers submit read something like: "I stopped Bob after an informant purchased a large amount of heroin from Bob, Bob had syringes, heroin, weed, a scale for weighing drugs etc... on his person, and a rolled up wade of bills". The money is then seized as proceeds of criminal activity.

If that's usually the case, why wasn't Bob arrested? In your scenario, he had illegal drugs in his possession, so an arrest seems more appropriate than a simple seizure.

I think most the criticism of "stop and seize" stems from the the cases where a seizure was made without an arrest, perhaps under a dubious theory like "cash == drug money".

> IT IS NOT DIFFICULT TO CONTEST A CIVIL FORFEITURE > saying the forfeited property is not proceeds of a crime. They then have to appear in court, before a judge, and demonstrate this fact. The bar is not high, but I have never once seen this happen.

Lets say Bill, who is unbanked, wants to buy a car. He saved the money for it in cash under his mattress, and now has $3000. He's transporting it, and a cop pulls him over, thinks "CASH == DRUG MONEY" and seizes it.

How exactly does Bill go about demonstrating to the court that his money was not proceeds of a crime, are they just going to take him at his word? What if he employed irregularly or informally or doesn't meticulously keep his receipts? What if he physically can't make it to court? What if he's just not smart enough to make an articulate argument and is too poor to hire a lawyer?


> Which county is that, and is your county representative of all counties in the US?

Multnomah County, Oregon (I cited to our state statute though... most that I have seen are very similar). Seizure law is either State or Federal.

> If that's usually the case, why wasn't Bob arrested? In your scenario, he had illegal drugs in his possession, so an arrest seems more appropriate than a simple seizure.

Bob usually is arrested. Bob often pleas out, rats out his friends and is not charged, or occasionally is arrested and not charged because the DAs office is overworked as it is. The civil forfeiture is entirely separate from the criminal proceedings. I agree though: for example, the young man that was on the train a while back who had a large amount of money on his person should not have had it seized. That was absurdly bogus. But, as far as I can tell, that was an anomaly.

> Lets say Bill, who is unbanked, wants to buy a car. He saved the money for it in cash under his mattress, and now has $3000. He's transporting it, and a cop pulls him over, thinks "CASH == DRUG MONEY" and seizes it.

First, Bill would have to have drugs on him, at least in the State of Oregon, and most states. That is what constitutes "prohibited conduct" under the seizure statutes. Also, having a bank account does not matter. This is a civil case, so Bill would just appear in court and prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the money is not from drugs. He could say "I have a job, this is my savings" or "my grandmother gave me $3,000 to buy a car." No need for loads of evidence - opposing counsel likely cannot refute anything he says. A judge would then order his money returned. It is that simple. Also, if the seizing officer did not have probable cause to believe the funds were proceeds of prohibitive conduct to begin with the judge would return the monies.

Caveat - I think I sound super pro-seizure here, but with all the bad stuff the government does it bugs me when something like this gets blown out of proportion. I guess you can argue that keeping proceeds of drug dealing is alright - usually it is cocaine, heroin, and meth - but this all feels very tin-foil-hatty from the perspective of someone who reviews civil forfeitures every day. I could also be jaded by living where I do - our court system and police seem to be behave themselves well compared to the rest of the country.

addition: there are other portions of the statutes that allow for seizure of profits from other conduct, like if you subject someone to indentured servitude, but these portions of the statute are seldom, if ever, used to seize funds or property. I am honestly not sure why.


> Also, having a bank account does not matter.

Bill, being unbanked, does not have the benefit of bank paper trails to prove where his money came from if challenged. It's also the reason that he to keeps, transports, and transacts with cash.

Being a banked white person, almost all of my money has a paper trail closely associated with it. If I ever have a wad of cash, I can point to records showing where I got it.

So, being banked or unbanked matters here, since it speaks to the existence of 3rd party evidence that can be use to back up claims about the source of the money.

> No need for loads of evidence - opposing counsel likely cannot refute anything he says. A judge would then order his money returned. It is that simple.

What if he can't show up in court for whatever reason? He loses his sized cash, right?

Someone made a good point upthread: these seizures end up reversing the traditional burden of proof: they money is assumed to be "guilty" until proven "innocent" (even if that burden of proof is really low). If someone has their money seized, the burden of proof should be on the state to connect them to a crime and charge them to justify the seizure, if it can't do that, the state should hand-deliver the money back to the person it was seized from.


I believe I have read stories of people in Tennessee on known drug routes, and a member of the Libertarian party at an airport, being detained for hours being questioned about their possession of large amounts of cash. The man in TN didn't get it back. The man from the LP did, eventually.

I simply don't believe, based on what I've read in the past, that the presence of drugs is a prerequisite for peoples' money to be stolen by police.


"They then have to appear in court, before a judge, and demonstrate this fact."

We fought a revolution over this sort of garbage and enshrined the presumption of innocence as a core principle in our constitution.

How about we seize all of your assets, give you a "single piece of paper" to enter a not guilty plea, then force you to prove in court that these powers are not widely misused. "The bar is not high", but somehow I doubt you would succeed.


It would be as easy as saying "I have a job" or "my grandmother gave me $2,000 for rent and necessaries". It could be done by a self represented person easily. And again, the person who has property seized from them always has drugs... police are not just randomly taking money. Drug legalization is another another matter (I am pro, FWIW), but for now it remains illegal.


Unfortunately in Boston they are.

"As he describes his job, he looks through the newspapers and looks at the Internet, looking for news stories of properties that might be forfeitable and brings them to the attention of the U.S. attorney"

http://www.wbur.org/2012/11/14/tewksbury-motel-owner-fights-...


> And again, the person who has property seized from them always has drugs.

This seems like anecdotal evidence to me. Moreover, police officers do lie on signed police reports (it's happened to me). Were you present during Bob's arrest?

> I have a job

So, if I have a job paying $20k/year and I have $2k in my pocket would that be a sufficient reason for having said currency?

> My grandmother gave me $2,000 for rent and necessaries

Would my grandmother have to appear before a judge as well? What if the court date was scheduled 3 weeks after my arrest? I'd probably be evicted out of my home by the time I ever saw a judge.


https://www.google.com/search?q=civil+forfeiture+abuse

Plenty of examples of potentially innocent citizens being effected by this tactic. Heck, there's even an entire website dedicated to it: http://endforfeiture.com/ - Plenty of data there.


With regards to point 2, at the federal level things do seem to work very differently. Here is a flowchart outlining the steps you would have to take to reclaim your assets from federal forfeiture:

https://reason.com/assets/mc/2015_06/forfeitchart.jpg

Regarding point 3, part of the problem, too, is that the federal government engages in sharing programs with local agencies. So if most of the money from a local-level forfeiture does not go back to the agency, the agency has a strong incentive to bring the feds into it because then they will keep a considerably larger fraction of the proceeds.


> They then have to appear in court, before a judge, and demonstrate this fact.

Strictly speaking, the government has the burden of proof (not the property owner) in forfeiture cases, but the burden is the usual civil burden of proof (preponderance of the evidence) because it is a civil action, not the criminal burden of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt). This is one reason forfeiture (and other civil remedies, where available) might be pursued in a case where criminal charges would not be, the burden of proof is lower.

> Perhaps at the federal level things work very differently and the process is abused

No, the main abuse due to federal law hasn't been by the feds, its by local agencies using provisions of federal law allowing them to keep the proceeds of federal-law based seizures when the state law those agencies deal with requires state law seizures to go to the state general fund, which provides much less incentive for law enforcement agencies to abuse seizure powers as a revenue source.


Do you review the federal seizures in your county? That is, would you see anything covered by the Equitable Sharing Program? My understanding is that its common for state agencies to use that to make an end run around your point 3.


Unfortunately no, I have never had any interaction with the feds and handling civil forfeitures. Reading a lot of the articles the majority of the problems appear to be with the feds and not local governments. So it could be that at the federal level abuse truly is rampant.


> There are always drugs when property is seized this way.

Nope. Several years ago the FBI stole $6M in Platinum, Gold and Silver. Some of the theft was of protected political speech-- literally copper & silver pieces with Ron Paul's picture and a campaign slogan on them. No allegations of drugs was involved, and the criminality claim -- that using gold and silver as barter threatened to undermine the US dollar -- was absurd on its face.

> IT IS NOT DIFFICULT TO CONTEST A CIVIL FORFEITURE.

BS. The $6M in precious metals was melted down (reducing its value actually) and sold off to the profit of the FBI, despite a very large and expensive legal effort to try and reclaim the money. The owners of the assets were never convicted of a crime.

> The money does not all go directly to the seizing agency. Much of it goes towards drugs programs, oversight for civil forfeitures, and other programs.

IT's still theft.


Minting your own gold currency is illegal: http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/uscode/18/I/25/486.


How is that relevant to this case? In a way that wouldn't also indict e.g. http://www.americanmint.com/?


Agreed. Theft is theft. I want to write an article on this now and really research the numbers and number of cases - there appears to be a vast difference in when and how federal vs state forfeiture powers are exercised.


I came here to mention this example as well.


The oversight of civil forfeiture is financed by civil forfeiture? Is that true? Sounds like a serious conflict of interest.


Not entirely. I would have to search hard to find the exact information, but it is primarily funded by the general fund. This is all at the state/county level though; I have no familiarity with federal civil forfeiture.


> With government unable to pay police as much as they need or would like, police are confiscating their revenue directly from the populace.

Where does the author think the funding comes from in the normal situation? It's confiscated from the populace just the same. What is this elusive property of the government that makes it not a self-funding gang which is not present in any part of the government (e.g. police in this case) but present in the whole?


This 'elusive' property is the idea that taxes are an indirect method of funding the police (as it is re-proportioned via much bureaucracy), while seizures directly fund the policeman's wallet.

Obviously the latter is much more dangerous, because there's a self-reinforcing cycle where the police spend their entire time stealing, instead of doing their government-defined jobs.

Indirection is important. It allows someone to give you goals that are productive, otherwise you would just steal from your employer instead of working for them (so they would give you money).


Nice explanation. I'd never thought about the important role of indirection in productive employment.


From taxes, which although complex, are still well publicized and listed and it's easy to know how much you need to pay and when. You also (generally) pay these based on your income level.

That's completely different from have arbitrary amounts of cash confiscated from you at arbitrary times.


I think you're responding to an anti-government troll who is being deliberately obtuse about the difference between civil asset forfeiture vs tax collection. Unfortunately statements like theirs muddy the waters between something that most sane people find acceptable (government tax collection) vs something that most sane people find abhorrent once they know about it.


> something that most sane people find abhorrent once they know about it

Does it mean the lawmakers and higher-ups in the executive branch are not sane people?


No, it just means the priorities and incentives of their jobs are completely misaligned towards solving the problem.


In many cases, no they are not.


I think the question is legitimate. Why are sane people okay with having their property rights violated by taxation but not by confiscation?


Knock yourself out:

http://www.amazon.com/Anarchy-State-Utopia-Robert-Nozick/dp/...

http://www.amazon.com/A-Theory-Justice-John-Rawls/dp/0674000...

(Seriously, what kind of response are you expecting? There are so many assumptions built in to your question that you're basically asking for a summary of political philosophy).


> Why are sane people okay with having their property rights violated by taxation

Most people don't regard taxation as a violation of property rights.


"Property rights" aren't any natural rights. It's a societal agreement, and that agreement comes with strings attached. In your case you pay taxes, and your society holds everyone up to this bunch of collective agreements, including not taking away your property just willy-nilly (confiscation).


> In your case you pay taxes, and your society holds everyone up to this bunch of collective agreements, including not taking away your property just willy-nilly (confiscation).

Except that's...not happening, in one of the largest, and without doubt the most powerful, "democracies" in the world. Police do take away your property willy-nilly in the USA without trial.

Does this mean we get to stop paying taxes?


> Why are sane people okay with having their property rights violated by taxation but not by confiscation?

Because these people are not egotistical, anti-social assholes, but contribute their share to society instead.


Taxation in a democracy is inherently legitimate. And the reasoning behind it is explained clearly in Rousseau's Social Contract, although the idea goes back centuries. Simply stated, if you decide to continue living in a society, then you implicitly agree to abide by its rules. In most countries, the agreement means paying taxes set by elected representatives.


Rousseau's social contract, while a fine piece of work, would almost certainly advocate a monarchy for a state the size of America. Its use here seems to be an appeal to authority, which seems odd as there are no mentions to it anywhere within our governing documents, upon which a less spurious legitimacy is bestowed.

Beyond that, categorizing anything as "inherently legitimate" is fraught with peril. One could perhaps surmise that all things are legitimate within a democracy, but so long as the favors of the majority come at the expense of the minority, that claim is disputable.

Beyond that, I don't really know that Rousseau's contract would invalidate a North Korean government as it exists, and North Korean citizenship precludes the option of defection.

The biggest flaw I see with the assertion that "if you want to live here, you agree to pay taxes" is that there's no opt-out policy in America as it is. If you object to the taxation, and wish to opt out, your only path is expatriation, with its associated expatriation taxes.


I'd say that the tautology of what the system agrees is legitimate is what is legitimate (no less useful than gravity pulls things together because it pulls things together). Laws promoting racism were broken in the US, and the law-breakers were quickly recognized as legitimate. Perhaps some types of tax dodgers might be considered legitimate. The beauty of a democracy is that if you can convince enough people that something should be legitimate/illegitimate, they can make it so.

And yes "inherently legitimate" was a poor phrase to choose.

And I believe many founders leaned heavily on Rousseau's work. Hamilton and Madison particularly in the Federalist Papers.


> I'd say that the tautology of what the system agrees is legitimate is what is legitimate

And which is inherently fallacious, even going against Rousseau. Slavery as an institution was systemically agreed upon by the institution. There is no inherent legitimacy in violating the liberties of others, and while I agree that any such comparison is flawed, agreeing on slavery as an institution is no more or less legitimate due to populist demand than the insistence of taking some people's money and giving it to others.

Are there benefits? Undoubtedly; but even something mathematically proven as "good" (as if we could do such a thing) is not necessarily legitimate, however well founded the idea or the intent. That said, this is all philosophical, to be sure, but since we're waxing, may as well get fully waxed. (Don't ask me what that means, cause I have no idea.)

> And I believe many founders leaned heavily on Rousseau's work

No argument there.


The US is a Republic not a Democracy.


The constitution says the US is both a Republic and a Democracy.


Declaration of Independence and our constitution do not even mentioned the word "democracy".


Let's see... neither the Constitution nor the Declaration of Independence explicitly use the word "republic" for the United States as a whole, so you should perhaps reconsider that argument.

Constitution, Article 1, Section 2, and Section 3, in their first paragraphs clearly define the legislative branch as a representative democracy.


The US Republic is a type of Democracy, but does not have direct democracy in that representatives are elected to represent the public.


"property rights" is an abstract concept that doesn't exist without government in the first place.


Indeed. Logical consistency would dictate that you should either be for both or against both, but not for one and against the other.

But humans are notorious for allowing emotional concerns, religious beliefs, and simple self-interest override logic.

Maybe they just don't like the reverse-lottery aspect of funding the government. Rather than a lucky person getting a windfall from the government, an unlucky person loses everything to it. You can avoid the lottery by not buying tickets, but the only way to avoid the anti-lottery is by not having anything to steal. For most people, that would be a pretty miserable existence.

People want to believe that their government exists to serve their interests. They may be more upset that the government is spoiling the illusion of fairness--that the government is doing all this publicly--than the fact that the government is doing it at all. Because as bad as they might have it now, if there is a rebellion, the new boss might, in fact, be worse than the old boss.


Would you be therefore fine with it if a local police department decided it's underfunded and went confiscating money in the neighborhood according to a pre-published plan and taking into account one's income level?


You also get to vote on increasing/decreasing police funding.


Though you should bear in mind that if you do vote to decrease police funding, they may respond by increasing forfeitures and enforcement of revenue-generating ordinances.

So now, instead of being able to drive 60 mph in a 55 mph zone without being molested, they swap out the signs for 45 mph, you get pulled over for driving 46 mph, the officer "smells marijuana" when you open your window, and you lose your car. You get the ticket thrown out because the limit was still 55, despite the change of signage, but the judge rules that the cops still have reasonable cause to stop you, search your car, and seize it, because you were still driving faster than what the signs said.

Of course, the same could happen if you vote to increase funding.

The police are servants of the legislature, not the citizenry. You can't fire or demote someone who doesn't work for you.


This is a pretty interesting point that i haven't though much about before.

I suppose one problem with confiscation vs. taxation involves incentives. Taxation incentivizes governments to create healthy economies to increase revenue whereas confiscation incentivizes police forces to violate property rights arbitrarily.

Another problem at present is there is much less oversight of confiscation than of taxation and maybe confiscation is less predictable than taxation.


That's a good point. Taxation is protection racket while stop-and-seize is armed robbery.


Distribution of violence makes the differences: taxes are applied to the majority and there's an established and predictable pattern for this way of wealth transfer from the populace to the government, while stop seizures apply to a very small group but in a much more impactful (for that group) way in an unpredictable manner.


I'm happy I live in a country that has taxes, because I like the improved quality of life that comes from having utilities and public services like streets and water. Civil forfeiture hurts the quality of life for everyone except the cops.


I believe it hurts quality of life for cops as well, in that it reduces their self-respect.


The difference is that the amount of taxes and how they're spent are determined by a legislative process by elected officials.


With governments you get to decide the makeup and leader of the gang.

Thats... quite a fundamental difference.


Within a specific form of government when it is properly running within a system with minimal corruption, you get to decide the makeup and leader of the government... in theory.

In practice, the average person has no say over who is ruling them.


The police in this instance is following the law made by leaders you've supposedly decided on.




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