Utah Ends Civil Asset Forfeiture, what’s keeping the rest of the country?
October 10, 2014 by Wina Sturgeon
Did you know that your private property can be seized and kept by police, even though you have not been charged with a crime? You may be totally innocent of any wrongdoing, but police and state prosecutors can still grab your home, vehicles, bank account and any cash you may have available-everything you own.
Worse, you may never be able to get that property returned.
In the summer of 2012, James R. Wilkes was pulled over by West Valley City police and accused of carrying meth. The Salt Lake County District Attorney seized Wilkes’ truck, his Harley Davidson motorcycle, and $18,000 in cash. Drug charges were dropped, but the D.A.’s office refused to return his property.
Wilkes went to court to prove the money came from his own savings and an inheritance from his late father. He explained that he had a one-year-old child, and was now “penniless.”
The DA’s office finally admitted there was no criminal activity connected to the seized assets but still kept the vehicles and part of the money. Only $14,000 was returned.
The War on Drugs and the War on Liberty
The law under which Wilkes and others had property seized is called ‘Civil Asset Forfeiture.’ It was originally part of the War on Drugs, designed to deprive drug traffickers of the profits from their illicit trade.
However, where money is involved, greed grows. In 1985, the U. S. Department of Justice created the Asset Forfeiture Fund. The following year, the DOJ received more than $93 million dollars worth of forfeited funds and property. According to Forbes Magazine, that escalated to one billion dollars by 2008. In April, the state of Texas used the Civil Asset Forfeiture Law (CAFL) to seize the huge YFZ ranch belonging to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Drivers in nearly every state in the union can be pulled over by police for innocuous offenses such as not having their seat belt visible, then asked if they are carrying any cash. If so, the officer can confiscate it using CAFL as an excuse.
There’s only one state where things like that can’t happen as easily: Utah.