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Civil Forfeiture Is State-Sanctioned Theft

Ever since 1929, the FBI has shared annual crime statistics via the Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Each year, it breaks down criminal activity into such categories as homicide, weapons, human trafficking, and hate crime. One category that is noticeably absent from the report is civil asset forfeiture. In the eyes of the law, this is a perfectly reasonable provision for seizing ill-gotten gains from suspects. But for the victims of this procedure, it goes by a simpler name – theft.

Also read: Mystery Bitcoin Miners Are Altering Mining Pool Dominance

From Money Laundering to Civil Forfeiture

Civil Forfeiture Is State-Sanctioned TheftIn the olden days, being found in possession of money was not a crime. As a result, police had no authority to seize a suspect’s funds unless they could prove that they were the proceeds of a heist. If you were a jewel thief, you could simply swap your gemstones for dollars and stuff them under your mattress in the knowledge that the feds couldn’t touch them. Then money laundering and proceeds of crime laws came into effect, triggering a cat and mouse game between cops and robbers that has persisted to this day.

One of the most controversial laws to have been introduced is civil forfeiture. It enables U.S. law enforcement (LE) to take cash from individuals who have not been charged with any crime, and to use it for their own ends. With cops authorized to act merely on the “preponderance of evidence” rather than on “beyond reasonable doubt,” which is the standard required for conviction, it’s trivial to seize the assets of anyone police take a disliking to. Retrieving them, for the victims of the forfeiture act, is virtually impossible.

In the last 10 years, the Drug Enforcement Administration has seized over $4 billion in cash in this manner, despite the fact that in over 80% of cases, no criminal charges were ever filed. With agencies strongly incentivized to enforce asset forfeiture, it’s a law that is ripe for abuse.

The Long History of Civil Forfeiture

Civil Forfeiture Is State-Sanctioned TheftLike many laws, civil forfeiture has a storied history that, in this case can be traced back to the 17th century. In the mid-1600s, British maritime laws obliged ships entering domestic ports to fly the British flag. Failure to comply would result in the cargo being seized, regardless of whether the vessel was carrying contraband. Four centuries later, and little has changed. The cargo today is generally drugs – or at least that’s the reason stated for seizing funds, as if that alone was justification for relieving potentially innocent citizens of their cash.

The legality of the war on drugs is a debate for another time. What is beyond debate, however, is that an overwhelming proportion of those targeted by civil forfeiture laws are minorities who, in many cases, have done nothing wrong other than to be of the “wrong color” and in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In extreme cases, cops become robbers and go through suspected dealers’ doors, pocketing the proceeds which don’t even make it to the precinct. But even when LE doesn’t act outside the confines of the law, it retains the power to act unreasonably through confiscating the assets of individuals using the sort of hearsay evidence that wouldn’t stand up in court.

If Civil Forfeiture Is State-Sanctioned Theft, Bitcoin Is the Solution

Civil forfeiture is a provision that requires victims to prove a negative if they wish to keep their cash. How do you prove that your assets aren’t the proceeds of crime? Look around the objects in your home, for example: you might know that your designer clothes, furniture, gadgets and consumer electronics weren’t illegally obtained, but could you prove that to law enforcement if put on the spot? It’s a burden of proof that hardly anyone would be able to meet. If the feds decide they want your assets, you’re screwed.

Given the impunity with which LE can acquisition the wealth of anyone they take a disliking to, seizure-resistant money sells itself. It’s a case that doesn’t require overstating, but there are nevertheless caveats to add. If the bitcoin owners don’t conceal their assets, as the likes of Ross Ulbricht and Alexandre Cazes discovered, the feds will seize your crypto along with anything else they can get their hands on. Thankfully, bitcoin is easily concealable, requiring little more than a dozen words scrawled on a piece of paper and stashed in a safe place. As Walter White found in Breaking Bad, concealing millions of dollars in cash can be a headache.

Civil Forfeiture Is State-Sanctioned Theft

However you acquired your fortune, you owe it to yourself to conceal it from prying eyes and probing three-letter agencies that have no right to requisition it. To date, bitcoin is the best form of seizure-resistant money that’s ever existed. Store your wealth in crypto and then stash your private key in a safe place, be it a bank vault, a box in the ground, or your brain.

Do you think civil forfeiture laws are wrong? Let us know in the comments section below.


Images courtesy of Shutterstock.


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Tags in this story
Alexandre Cazes, Civil Forfeiture, DEA, LE, N-Featured, Ross Ulbricht, Silk Road, Theft
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Kai Sedgwick

Kai's been playing with words for a living since 2009 and bought his first bitcoin at $19. It's long gone. He's previously written white papers for blockchain startups and is especially interested in P2P exchanges and DNMs.