June 27, 2022

AOC Discovers the Horrors of Civil Asset Forfeiture, Rails Against the Practice in Congressional Hearing

America’s civil asset forfeiture system is unfair, un-American, and ripe for reform—and people are finally beginning to notice.

Far-left Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is right about something. Yes, you read that correctly.

During a Wednesday House hearing, the New York congresswoman gave impassioned remarks railing against “civil asset forfeiture.” This refers to various federal and local law enforcement practices wherein private citizens’ assets — such as cash, cars, or homes — are confiscated due to the mere suspicion they’re associated with criminal activity. Often this occurs without much due process at all.

“This is an issue that so many people in this country cannot believe is real,” Ocasio-Cortez said . “Civil forfeiture means that the government, law enforcement, etc., is allowed to take away your property — often your car or even your home — without an arrest, without criminal charges, and without ever going to court. And then the police can sell your property and use the proceeds as revenue.”

Ocasio-Cortez has identified a very real problem. Over the last 20 years, the government has confiscated roughly $68.8 billion in property through this unfair process, according to the Institute for Justice. And, as the below graph shows, in 2019, the federal government alone — not even counting state and local law enforcement — stole more property annually than burglars did!

And don’t make the mistake of thinking that most of this property is confiscated from convicted criminals or known leaders of drug cartels. As the congresswoman notes, it’s often taken without charges or a trial, and most of it is taken from very small-time offenders. Sometimes, the property taken is not owned by the person suspected of a crime, just by someone associated with a suspect, like the mother of a suspect.

Here are some examples of everyday victims of civil asset forfeiture, as I reported for the Dispatch in 2020:

1. [Isiah] Kinloch fought off a burglar who tried to break into his apartment. When he called the police, officers found a small amount of marijuana in the apartment and, without any evidence of a connection, seized $1,800 in cash they found in the home. Drug charges were filed against Kinloch but later dropped, and he was never convicted of any crime. Police kept the cash.

2. A taco truck driver had $10,000 seized by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department even though he was never arrested or charged with a crime. He was never able to recover the funds.

These are the kinds of victims Ocasio-Cortez was talking about. The congresswoman went on to say that under this forfeiture system, “it’s disproportionately poor people, low-income people, and people of color who are having their property seized.”

While the real issue is the inherent unfairness of this practice for anyone, Ocasio-Cortez still may be right about the existence of disparities. In South Carolina, for example, the Greenville News reports : “Seven out of 10 people who have property taken are black, and 65% of all money police seize is from black males.” On the national level, the racial diversity of an area positively correlates with the amount of property taken by law enforcement through forfeiture. (This doesn’t alone prove race is the cause of that increase.)

While some of Ocasio-Cortez’s woke rhetoric may be a bit over the top, Republicans who believe in property rights and due process still ought to work with her on this issue, if she is willing. Conservative lawmakers such as Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee have introduced legislation to combat this harmful practice. More elected officials from both parties should join these bipartisan efforts.

As rare as it is, AOC is right about this one. Our civil asset forfeiture system is unfair, un-American, and ripe for reform.

Republished with permission from the Washington Examiner.

This article, AOC Discovers the Horrors of Civil Asset Forfeiture, Rails Against the Practice in Congressional Hearing, was originally published by the Foundation for Economic Education and appears here with permission.  Please support their mission.