NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

War Against Criminals Imperils Constitutional Safeguards

October 6, 2000

In an effort to pursue crime -- especially drug-related crime -- lawmakers are putting the liberties and interests of honest citizens in jeopardy, critics warn. Nowhere is this threat so evident as in cases involving asset forfeiture proceedings, they say.

Here are several horror stories they cite:

  • When an Alabama doctor who distrusted banks finally decided to deposit $316,911 in cash he had hoarded in his home over his lifetime, the FBI and the U.S. attorney seized all of his assets and indicted the banker on charges of money laundering -- simply on the assumption that such a sum was evidence of wrong-doing.
  • A California multimillionaire lost his life as a result of a deputy sheriff's plot to confiscate his 200-acre Malibu estate on fabricated drug charges.
  • These are not isolated incidents, since 80 percent of the victims of asset forfeiture are innocents who are never charged with a crime.

Law enforcement agents seldom differentiate between inadvertent violations of the law and the activities of criminals, experts charge. Offenses such as money laundering are technical in nature and do not require intent to commit a crime.

Laws are even now being proposed to further strengthen law enforcement powers at the expense of honest citizens' rights and freedoms. Critics point to a bill by Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), that would permit the Customs Service to open anyone's mail without a warrant as a tool to combat money laundering.

Such legislative efforts strike critics as evidence some politicians believe the ends of law enforcement justify unconstitutional means.

Source: Paul Craig Roberts, "Risks Lurking in the War on Crime," Washington Times, October 6, 2000.


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