A few weeks ago, my buddy Jason Pye from FreedomWorks appeared on Fox Business alongside a smarmy “law enforcement officer” named Paul Babeu to discuss civil asset forfeiture. The short debate came on the heels of Donald Trump making a not so amusing joke about destroying the career of a Texas state senator who introduced legislation requiring suspects to be convicted before their property can be seized. The President seems to oppose reforms – vocally enough that he makes jokes about destroying the careers of those who believe reform is necessary.
Civil asset is not funny, however. While I fully understand the need to go after assets connected to illicit activity, blocking assets, freezing them, or confiscating them should be an action taken after at the very least a reasonable legal standard proving wrongdoing has been met!
Ferpetessake, even the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) that administers the Department of the Treasury’s sanctions program has to meet an evidentiary standard before freezing the assets of bad guys! Hell, OFAC just sanctioned drug trafficker and Venezuelan Vice President Tareck el Aissami and his buddy Samark Jose Lopez Bello “for providing material assistance, financial support, or goods or services in support of the international narcotics trafficking activities of, and acting for or on behalf of, El Aissami” under the Kingpin Act, and they still had to meet legal sufficiency. And there are specific steps (that don’t cost a life’s savings) to petition for removal from the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list.
Oh, and by the way, OFAC doesn’t keep the funds that are frozen to buy cool gadgets with.
But no, apparently police departments nationwide face no such constraints.
As Jason noted recently, law enforcement too often permanently seizes the property of innocent people as a revenue generating measure. That’s a no go.
According to the Institute for Justice, thirty-one states require prosecutors to show only a preponderance of the evidence, or a fifty-one percent likelihood that property is connected to illicit activity, to subject property to forfeiture. Basically, it’s a coin flip. Thirty-five states and the federal government put the burden of proof in forfeiture proceedings on the property owner, denying American citizens their constitutionally-guaranteed rights to due process and the presumption of innocence.
In his debate with Babeu on Fox Business, Jason made some very logical points that this is an issue of constitutional rights.
Babeu countered with the usual talking point about just how much money cartels have compared with law enforcement and how it’s a tool to use against criminal syndicates. He brought up the seizure of cash and property in Arizona from the Sinaloa cartel and claimed that the legal standard of “preponderance of the evidence” was a sufficient burden of proof to meet when it comes to relieving individuals of their very basic right to keep what they have earned.
You should watch this video just for the satisfaction of seeing Jason refute Babeu’s claim that only bad guys get snared in these asset forfeiture traps by bringing up an example of an innocent woman who was relieved of her property and was only able afford even challenge this forfeiture in court with the help of the ACLU.
Babeau’s oh-so erudite response: *snort* The ACLU.
Jason’s counter: Civil liberties are civil liberties.
Well, I think we now can make a pretty high confidence assessment about why Babeu is such a big supporter of civil asset forfeiture.
Federal authorities have launched a probe of Pinal County’s top two former law enforcement officials and whether they inappropriately used profits from seized property for personal and professional expenses.
County officials confirmed they are cooperating with FBI inquiries into former Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and County Attorney Lando Voyles over the use of funds from suspects’ confiscated possessions.
Newly elected Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer said he also has asked the Arizona auditor general to review Pinal County’s asset-forfeiture records to determine if monies were properly used. He asked the auditor general to recommend the best way to use those funds.
Now, an investigation does not necessarily mean guilt, or that it will lead to a guilty verdict, but it’s awfully interesting to me that Babeu – a two-time loser as a candidate for a Congressional seat – is suspected of participating in a scheme to funnel money to a private group – the Arizona Public Safety Foundation, which for years operated out of the sheriff’s office and was staffed by sheriff’s deputies – used RICO funds from Pinal County to help support sheriff’s office activities and functions and bought things for him and his department. By funneling money to this private group, “Babeu is able to avoid procurement laws and other transparency regulations which usually apply to government purchasing,” a lawsuit cited by the Arizona Republic stated.
And Babeu had no comment about the allegations, either.
Look, there are tools that the government can and should use in its efforts against illicit financial flows and other types of criminal activity. They are effective tools when used properly. When they’re used to pad budgets and purchase goodies, we’re incentivizing theft, and encouraging the blurring of legal standards of guilt and innocence and corruption. It shifts the burden of proof from the state to the defendant, forcing them to spend thousands of dollars to prove their innocence and get their property back, instead of putting the onus on the state to show their guilt before allowing confiscation. It ruins livelihoods. It destroys financial stability. It infringes on the property rights of the people. It stands the very concept of “innocent until proven guilty” on its ear and imposes punishment based on that dangerous reversal.
It would be ironic, wouldn’t it, if Babeu had his property confiscated before actual guilt or innocence could be determined?
After all, if he’s such a proponent of wealth confiscation before innocence can be determined, he won’t mind getting his shit stolen and then spending thousands of dollars in court fees to get it back… maybe… almost definitely not, right?