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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/16/19

Asset Forfeiture? Thank Joe Biden and His Friend Strom Thurmond

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Joe Biden
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Harvey Miller is known in the music industry as "DJ Speedy." He's a serious player in the music world, having worked with Beyonce, Jay-Z, and other top pop stars. He is a wealthy and successful entrepreneur and entertainer. He also happens to be African-American.

Miller was driving recently from his home in Atlanta, Georgia, to his second home in Los Angeles. A sheriff's deputy pulled him over in Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, for "not using his turn signal a full 100 feet before changing lanes." The deputy asked Miller what he was doing in Oklahoma. Miller said that he was a professional musician and he was on his way to his home in California. The deputy said that the story sounded suspicious and he asked if he could search the car. Miller, who had no criminal record, refused. "No, you can't search my vehicle," he said. "What warrants you to search my vehicle?"

The cop wasn't finished with Miller, however. He called in a K-9 unit; a K-9 "sniff" isn't the same as a "search," according to the Supreme Court. No permission or warrant is needed. The cops claim that the dog "alerted" for possible drugs and they searched the car. Miller protested that he has never used drugs, he hadn't been drinking, and he had never been arrested. He had never broken the law.

The cops found no drugs. They did, though, find $150,000 in cash, which they seized, claiming that the money "smelled like marijuana." They also claimed that of the $150,000, one $20 bill was fake, and they arrested Miller. He spent 12 hours in the county jail and was released without charge in the morning.

But the cops kept the money, and they're not giving it back. It's called civil asset forfeiture. Literally nothing in the law says that the police have to give Miller his money back, even though he's never been charged with a crime. He'll probably never see it again. And who do we have to thank for this travesty of justice? Joe Biden.

Biden was elected to the Senate way back in 1972, and he immediately saw himself as a potential presidential candidate. He was a progressive Democrat from a progressive Democratic state and he had to prove to Republicans and moderate independents that he was tough on crime. He set out to do that immediately.

An early form of asset forfeiture had been passed into law in 1970, but it applied only to goods that could be considered a danger to society, like weapons, illegal alcohol, and untaxed cigarettes, and it applied only after the defendant was convicted of a crime. Prosecutors wanted something that gave them more leverage over defendants and that packed more of a punch besides just a prison sentence. In 1978, Jimmy Carter's "drug czar," Peter Bourne, became a proselytizer for a wildly-expanded form of civil asset forfeiture. He held seminars for prosecutors and volunteered to brief members of Congress on the need for forfeiture without conviction as a legal weapon. He quickly gained an ally in Joe Biden.

Bourne told Biden that prosecutors weren't taking advantage of the civil asset forfeiture law and that it needed to be strengthened. But he was soon pushed out when Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980. Biden then began working with the new attorney general, Ed Meese, and Assistant Attorney General Bill Weld. (Weld somehow has come to be known as a "moderate," despite the fact that he went on to become a federal prosecutor, where he was a leader in civil asset forfeiture cases, the Republican governor of Massachusetts, and the Libertarian Party's nominee for Vice President. He is now running against Donald Trump in the 2020 Republican presidential primaries. He went so far in the 1980s as to ask Congress for the authority to shoot down planes flown by suspected drug dealers.)

Biden, Meese, and Weld agreed that the asset forfeiture laws didn't go far enough. They decided that, because the existing law required an indictment before the feds could take people's property, it had to be changed. Police and prosecutors would have unprecedented legal authority to "put the drug cartels out of business." They turned to Biden to push it through Congress.

In 1983, Biden, along with racist former Dixiecrat senator Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), drafted the Comprehensive Forfeiture Act, which gave federal agents nearly unlimited powers to seize assets from private citizens. Reagan signed it into law quickly. But Biden wasn't done. A year later, he and Thurmond wrote and had passed the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. It again expanded prosecutors' powers and lowered the burden of proof for forfeiture. Now federal agents only had to believe that what they were seizing was equal in value to money believed to have been purchased from drug sales. Nobody had to prove anything. Most importantly, the new law allowed for "equitable sharing," allowing states and localities to retain up to 80 percent of assets seized.

Do you think Biden has had second thoughts? Nope. In a 1991 speech on the Senate floor, he said, "We changed the law so that if you are arrested, and you are a drug dealer, under our forfeiture statutes, the government can take everything you own. Everything from your car to your house, your bank account, not merely what they confiscate in terms of the dollars from the transaction you just got caught engaging in." Notice that he didn't say anything about anybody actually being convicted of a crime.

More recently, in January, Biden was challenged over his support for asset forfeiture. He parsed his words. "I haven't always been right. I know we haven't always gotten things right, but I've always tried."

I, for one, want a president who is going to support civil liberties and civil rights, not conspire with notorious extremists like Thurmond, Reagan, Meese, and Weld to take them away. Biden has had his turn at the trough. He blew it. He stripped Americans of their rights. He actually wanted -- encouraged -- the cops to take our homes, our cars, and our money even if we were never convicted of a crime. He made it easier for them. That's the kind of politician we should send into a permanent retirement, not to the White House.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.


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John Kiriakou spent 14 years at the CIA and two years in a federal prison for blowing the whistle on the agency's use of torture. He served on John Kerry's Senate Foreign Relations Committee for two years as senior investigator into the Middle (more...)

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