In refusing to hear a challenge to Texas’ asset forfeiture law, the US Supreme Court is allowing Texas police to keep $201,000 in cash primarily on the basis that the seized cash — the proceeds of a home sale — was being transported on a highway associated with illegal drug trade, despite any proof of illegal activity by the owner. Asset forfeiture laws, which have come under intense scrutiny and criticism in recent years, allow the police to seize property “suspected” of being connected to criminal activity without having to prove the owner of the property is guilty of a criminal offense.
Lisa Leonard, the owner of the $201,000, had asked the US Supreme Court to compel Texas to return her money, given that she was innocent of any crime. In a written opinion that denounced the profit incentives that drive asset forfeiture schemes, Justice Clarence Thomas concluded, “This system—where police can seize property with limited judicial oversight and retain it for their own use — has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses.”
“Relying on the topsy-turvy legal theory that one’s property can not only be guilty of a crime but is guilty until proven innocent, government agencies have eagerly cashed in on asset forfeiture as a revenue scheme under the pretext of the War on Drugs,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Yet if the government can arbitrarily freeze, seize or lay claim to your property (money, land or possessions) under government asset forfeiture schemes, you have no true rights. The government’s practice of policing for profit must stop.”
© 2016 The Rutherford Institute