Forfeiture Laws: IRS Can Seize Your Accounts Without Any Criminal Charge

A relatively recent policy update to civil asset forfeiture laws has given the IRS and other law enforcement agencies a new cash cow. Because now they can seize your accounts even without criminal charges or criminal connections:

But the Institute for Justice, a Washington-based public interest law firm that is seeking to reform civil forfeiture practices, analyzed structuring data from the I.R.S., which made 639 seizures in 2012, up from 114 in 2005. Only one in five was prosecuted as a criminal structuring case.

The practice has swept up dairy farmers in Maryland, an Army sergeant in Virginia saving for his children’s college education and Ms. Hinders, 67, who has borrowed money, strained her credit cards and taken out a second mortgage to keep her restaurant going.

Their money was seized under an increasingly controversial area of law known as civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement agents to take property they suspect of being tied to crime even if no criminal charges are filed. Law enforcement agencies get to keep a share of whatever is forfeited.

Well, that’s convenient, isn’t it? No crime needs to be established at all and law enforcement keeps a slice of the pie. Fantastic. I’m sure that doesn’t encourage unreasonable forfeitures at all.

Honestly, I wish people would wake up. Most new laws and policies take shape along this rubric:

1. Convince the American people of an extreme threat, using anecdotal evidence blown out of proportion by the ceaseless repetitions of mass media (terror!, organized crime!, mass shootings!, ebola!).

2. Structure extreme laws to protect “America” from that extreme threat.

3. Pass extreme laws by appealing to the aforementioned popular fear (designer and du jour).

4. Use the newly passed law only to further torment normal, law-abiding citizens while leaving the extreme threat still unresolved.

Think about it. The PATRIOT Act, Obamacare, and most gun control laws follow that rubric. And now civil asset forfeiture laws.

Has the PATRIOT Act actually protected us from terrorists? That’s unclear. It has certainly made life for everyone else a lot worse. From air travel to private data, the normal citizens whose fears made the PATRIOT Act possible have largely paid for their fear themselves, with nothing much in the way of added security to show for it.

Obamacare has not made that much of a difference to the few million Americans who were apparently in extreme distress from lack of healthcare. It has just increased healthcare costs for the people who were already mostly satisfied. Gun control? Same thing. Heavy gun control laws don’t actually prevent the extreme misuses of guns. It just hurts normal people who would never use their guns in a crime.

And the civil forfeiture laws are the same. Do the looser guidelines actually mean more criminals are caught? No. Stopping the extreme threat of organized crime was the purported reason for passing the new policy updates to forfeiture laws. But that’s not what has happened. Instead, normal law-abiding people are getting screwed. And that’s the only difference.

We need to wake up. Don’t let popular fear structure law. We have nothing to fear but fear itself. Well, that and the civil government.