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Scotus rejects guilty until proven innocent

There are numerous unbelievable ways in America that federal, state and local authorities can seize your property and convert it to the various levels of government. This is a revenue raising measure under the color of law.

The concept of forfeiture is a very old concept of English Common Law which the United States and 60 other countries inherited. This concept, which now pervades U.S. law, is known as civil forfeiture.

My study of this suggests to me that this has become an attractive incentive to steal property legally under legal pretenses. And it has been done many times.

For example, if someone plants marijuana on your land, even if without your knowledge, your property can be seized and taken as a civil forfeiture.

Yes, there are many cases where property was manipulated into seizure and forfeiture.

You may have heard of the famous California case of Donald Scott who in 1992 was shot down inside his home without provocation. The “legal” pretense used for the raid by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Drug Enforcement Agency, California Bureau of Narcotics, the California National Guard and the National Park Services, was that Scott was growing marijuana on his 200-acre estate. But no marijuana or drugs of any kind were found. Of course, an “investigation” by the LEOs (legally entitled to oppress) found no wrongdoing by the badge-wearing assailants on the scene.

An investigation by Ventura County District Attorney Michael Bradbury revealed:

“The statement of Probable Cause upon which the warrant was based includes a number of statements which could be considered false… In addition, there are a number of facts that could be considered material omissions… We find no reason why law enforcement officers who were investigating suspected narcotics violations would have any interest in the value of (Scott’s ranch) or the value of the property sold in the same area other than if they had a motive to forfeit that property.”

Based on the investigative profile, the Scotts were deemed “promising” targets for property seizure. Mr. Scott’s holdings had high value, making them valuable for seizure and forfeiture.

Scott’s home burned to the ground a year later in a wildfire. After many years of legal wrangling, Los Angeles County and the federal government agreed to a $5 million settlement with Scott’s wife, heirs and estate.

Until 1978, civil forfeiture was used primarily to seize property involved in customs offenses, but in that year Congress expanded its scope to permit confiscation of the proceeds of drug transactions.

This was a revolutionary change, as it marked the evolution of civil forfeiture into punishment, without any of the safeguards due a defendant in a criminal proceeding. Forfeiture can be pursued criminally and civilly at the same time.

An even larger expansion of civil forfeiture authority came with the 1986 money laundering statute. The Act provided for civil forfeiture of all property representing the proceeds of, involved in or facilitating a “specified unlawful activity.”

Such activities now include more than 200 federal crimes. The Act, in effect, expands the scope of civil forfeiture from customs and narcotics violations to any criminal offense that involves money.

Modern civil forfeiture laws provide the government with several unique advantages.

A seizure or asset freeze is authorized in an “ex parte” hearing (without the defendant or defendant’s lawyer being present) before a judge, magistrate or administrator. Except when real property is involved, the property owner need not be informed of this hearing, and thus may not attend it, much less contest the seizure.

The very important point here about civil forfeiture is the potential for totally innocent owners to be deprived of their property. Studies have shown that in 80 percent or more of civil forfeiture cases, the owners of the seized property were completely innocent of any wrongdoing.

And yet another lash against private property via civil forfeiture was that government is permitted to use hearsay evidence to establish probable cause to seize property. This made it possible for civil forfeitures based on tips from confidential informants whose claims that the property was linked to criminal activity could not be challenged. The informants do not have to confront the property owner or be identified. Once the government establishes probable cause, the burden shifts to the owner to demonstrate that the property was in fact not linked to criminal activity.

This smacks to me of the old Star Chamber proceeding where an accused was forced to confess and then hanged or put on the rack for his confession.

This should suggest to everyone that seizures and forfeiture under obscure laws that require no evidence of illegal activity for their enforcement is tyranny by any definition.

Over the years the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the innocence of a property owner is no defense to forfeiture.

But a ruling by the SCOTUS this week may help reverse the tide.

In a 7-1 decision (new Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch was not involved in the proceedings), SCOTUS struck down a Colorado law that forced criminal defendants to prove their innocence when their convictions were overturned. While the case – which involved fines and restitution paid before the conviction was overturned on appeal — didn’t involve civil forfeiture per say, the majority opinion stated the defendants were entitled to the presumption of innocence and “should not be saddled with any proof burden” to regain what is rightfully theirs.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, writing for the majority, rejected Colorado’s argument that “[t]he presumption of innocence applies only at criminal trials,” and not to civil claims, as under the Exoneration Act:  “Colorado may not presume a person, adjudged guilty of no crime, nonetheless guilty enough for monetary exactions.”

As Nick Sibilla of the Institute for Justice writes for Forbes:

Armed with this ruling, the Nelson decision may set an important precedent to rein in another abusive civil proceeding: civil forfeiture. The parallels are striking. Through civil forfeiture, law enforcement can confiscate and keep cash, cars and real estate without securing a criminal conviction or filing charges against the owner. Perversely, under civil forfeiture, even those found not guilty in criminal court can still forfeit their property in civil court, since the latter has a lower standard of proof.

Curiously, Justice Clarence Thomas – who has argued vociferously against asset forfeiture for many years — was the lone dissenter in the case, claiming, in essence, the majority decision was not based on any state or federal law and the plaintiffs did not argue their case correctly.

So rather than issuing the wrong ruling for the wrong reasons – which is the usual practice of SCOTUS – the Supreme Court may have issued the right ruling for the wrong reasons in this case.

The post Scotus rejects guilty until proven innocent appeared first on Personal Liberty®.

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