Civil Asset Forfeiture

Do Not Help U.S. Cops Seize Your Assets

A new Department of Justice (DOJ) directive from Attorney General Jeff Sessions makes it more important than ever to own cryptocurrency and to do so outside of digital exchanges which function like traditional banks; translation, they will rush to obey law enforcement agencies. The new directive expands the power of civil asset forfeiture for federal agents, allowing them to sidestep laws in the 20 states that currently restrict the practice.

Also read: Bitcoin’s Relationship With the ‘Mark of the Beast’ Theories

Do Not Carry Unnecessary Cash With You

Civil asset forfeiture allows federal or local law enforcement to confiscate property and wealth from anyone suspected of committing a crime or of being connected to one. The targeted person doesn’t need to be charged or arrested. No crime needs to be proven.

Even in the presence of a crime, the person’s property may have been used without their knowledge. For example, Russ Caswell fought for years to retain ownership of his motel in Massachusetts which was worth $2 million. Federal and local law enforcement claimed the motel was theirs because drug deals had happened without Caswell’s knowledge. He ultimately prevailed but it required backing from the powerful Institute for Justice and an intense media campaign. Success in contesting the seizures is rare.

Because the process is a civil and not a criminal one, there are no due process protections and law enforcement has a free hand. The evidentiary standard reduces to a police officer’s alleged suspicions; for example, cash is always suspected drug money. There is no “innocent

Do Not Help U.S. Cops Seize Your Assetsuntil proven guilty” which means the the burden falls on the victim to prove the cash is not related to drugs. It is possible to contest the seizure in court but the owner has no right of representation and bears the legal cost which can rival or surpass the amount stolen. (Guidelines in a 2000 law, the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act, suggest that a successful claimant can recover some legal fees but most victims are not aware of the possibility. And they need to prevail.)

Law enforcement relies on innocent people giving up. According to a 2016 report from the Heritage Foundation,  “A vast majority of federal civil forfeiture cases—88 percent by some estimates—never see the inside of a courtroom.”

The rate of discouraged victims may be considerably higher…for several reasons. Federal thefts generally involve larger amounts than state or local ones and so the victims are more likely to pursue justice. On the state and local level, traffic stop confiscations are popular. A police officer pulls over a driver and, either through inquiry or a search, he discovers a wad of “drug money” which is seized on the spot. How many victims simply drive away? No one knows.

Another reason for a high rate of discouraged victims is that police seem to target those least able to fight back. Examples would be the poor, people with children in the car, immigrants, cars with out-of-state license plates, and minorities. A Reason magazine investigation found that poor people tend to be most victimized. It reported, “Law enforcement in Cook County, which includes Chicago, seized items from residents ranging from a cashier’s check for 34 cents to a 2010 Rolls Royce Ghost with an estimated value of more than $200,000. They also seized Xbox controllers, televisions, nunchucks, 12 cans of peas, a pair of rhinestone cufflinks, and a bayonet.”

A 2016 headline in the Huffington Post offered a more specific example of victims the police probably thought were ‘safe’: “Cops Take $50,000 From Manager Of Christian Band, Are Forced To Admit It Was Total BS.”  A Christian rock group from Burma was badly harassed for almost two months by authorities in Oklahoma who wanted to keep $53,000 and a car that had been confiscated on the basis of a drug connection; no drugs were ever found. Huffpo stated,

[T]he fact that police seized the cash and prosecutors considered pursuing the case has once again highlighted the corrupting power of…civil asset forfeiture.” If the $53,000 had been in a privately-held bitcoin wallet, it would have been safe.

The Status of Civil Asset Forfeiture

For centuries, civil asset forfeiture law was used almost exclusively for customs enforcement or in maritime law. In the 1980s, however, the practice became a popular weapon in the war against drugs, especially since law enforcement agencies could keep or split the proceeds of what was seized. The DOJ maintains that the practice deters crime but a 2017 report from the agency’s inspector general disclosed that approximately two-thirds of cases in which cash was grabbed, no investigation, arrest or prosecution occurred. Clearly, the purpose was the cash grab not the deterrence of crime.

Do Not Help U.S. Cops Seize Your Assets

In recent years, resistance to civil asset forfeiture has been growing. For example, in 2014, the Washington Post published a series of articles entitled “Stop and Seize.” According to the Post, in 2013, law enforcement stole more from Americans than burglars did. The Post stated, “Last year…the Treasury and Justice departments deposited more than $5 billion into their respective asset forfeiture funds. That same year, the FBI reports that burglary losses topped out at $3.5 billion.”

In 2015, Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder rolled back the practice…at least slightly on paper. More importantly, states have been slowly tightening laws to restrict civil asset forfeiture, often by requiring people to be charged with or convicted of a crime before their wealth can be plundered. In 2015, however, the Institute for Justice uncovered documents that proved the federal government was trying to counter state efforts. The reform site End Forfeiture stated,

The California District Attorneys Association is circulating a set of email [sic] from officials with the DOJ and Treasury indicating that the federal government would disqualify the state from receiving funds from the federal Equitable Sharing Program if it passes the pending reforms. The documents also reveal that the DOJ has already disqualified New Mexico from participating in the program, following passage of a sweeping civil forfeiture reform bill this spring.

Avoiding State Restrictions on Civil Asset Forfeiture

AG Sessions’ letter announced a change in federal policy that means state and local agencies can bypass state laws that restrain civil asset forfeiture. The letter states, “Under the Attorney General’s Order, federal adoption of all types of assets seized lawfully by state or local law enforcement under their respective state laws is authorized whenever the conduct giving rise to the seizure violates federal law.” In short, local police have the authority to seize property under federal law.

Federal and state law enforcement are motivated to work together because of one Do Not Help U.S. Cops Seize Your Assetsprogram. Equitable Sharing was introduced in 1984 through the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. The program means the proceeds of seized assets are shared between state and federal agencies when they work together; states can receive up to 80% of the plunder; in Illinois, it can be 90%. Law enforcement in states that curtail civil asset forfeiture are motivated to join with the feds because it allows them to sidestep restrictions. The Washington Examiner explained, “Advocates of civil asset forfeiture reform…continue to make steady progress in the states. Alas, a loophole in current law threatens to undermine these victories by letting state and local law enforcement effectively bypass state law when they team up with federal agencies.”

The federal government, despite window-dressing provided by Holder, has always pushed civil asset forfeiture. It is too profitable a scam to be abandoned.

Conclusion: Own Cryptocurrency like Bitcoin

Sessions’ letter rings the dinner bell for federal, state and local thieves. You are the dinner.

Civil asset forfeiture is here to stay. As economic times get tougher, the practice will only accelerate. It is the main method by which law enforcement self-finances without needing the approval of taxpayers or officials on budgets. Many police departments could not sustain themselves without the thievery of civil asset forfeiture.

As a huge fan of cash, I advise you not to carry much more than you immediately need. The only portable wealth you can depend upon keeping is cryptocurrency maintained in a private wallet under a key you control. Avoid “policing for profit,” avoid “theft by cop.” It is about to become much more common.

Will cryptocurrency like bitcoin help sidestep the evils of civil asset forfeiture? Let us know in the comments below.

Images via Shutterstock

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  • David Arulnathan

    most police are gangsters & scumbags!!

    • Especially if you are a minority or otherwise vulnerable. Hang in there.

  • milmacrs

    I am terrified to learn these things are happening in the US. Never thought possible.

    • Dr. Bubó

      In 1933 FDR confiscated people’s gold before devaluation. Time for a bit more history lessons.

    • Don’t be terrified. Be a Patriot. Fight back with cunning and better intelligence. If cops or Feds don’t see or hear it, it did not happen or occur;) Never, ever reveal secrets, but don’t lie.

      • milmacrs

        Thank you for the bold and correct advice, but I am not American. I like and admire your country for all it represents and fights for in terms of freedom and individual rights. That’s why I am terrified. This seems a third world arbitrary practice, contrary to all the image of liberty we have regarding the US.

        • We, Americans, are not perfect. We seek a more perfect Union. We fight oppression even within our boarders, within our professions. I am one who believes in correcting ourselves before correcting others. It is unfortunate and sometimes regaled that we have offered up our troops to fight back oppression around the world before eradicating it from within. I am conflicted to spare any advice to the world as I see erosion of respect for a citizen within a State by the oppression of Bureaucrats, the very oppression that born this Union. Now, I feel the world should learn our mistakes and missteps just as much when they admire our seeking of Liberty.

        • Not to alarm you but many countries have their own civil asset forfeiture laws that can be found through a quick Google search. For example, this article from the Globe and Mail goes into the law in Canada (specifically Ontario) entitled

          Civil forfeiture often a provincial cash grab, new report finds…/article29072771/

          • William Wanklyn

            The link did not work, but a DuckDuckGo search of the title brings it up. Thanks for the heads up on the Canadian scene.

    • De Wilde Weldoener

      It’s less surprising once you realize taxation is theft, and inflation is theft.
      It’s just one more way for the state to farm more purchasing power from the tax cattle.
      That’s us by the way.

    • A lot of people are terrified…and one of the most encouraging reactions is that both conservatives and liberals dislike these civil asset forfeiture laws in equal measure which means there might be some real pushback. BUT the laws are popular with law enforcement and many federal/state agencies because they are ways for them to self-finance without raising taxes, which can be difficult. Another factor that allows the laws to function…there is still a tendency for the average person to believe that if someone’s assets are seized for a crime, well, that person must have had it coming.

      • William Wanklyn

        This subject came up for discussion last summer among family and friends. My brother in law in law was a city councillor in Connecticut. Most of the gathered assembly did not know anything about civil asset seizure and pooh poohed the notion as a conspiracy theory. Only my brother in law stood up to avow that his city financed its police force in this manner.

        Those who know are afraid. Those who don’t continue to live with eyes wide shut.

  • Ganancia Diaria Para Ti

    Si la criptografia seria genial para evitar que los corruptos autorizados, se roben nuestros bienes

    • Cops and Feds in the US confiscate Bank accounts after you have been charged very easily with a court order.

  • Vladimir Despotovic

    I suppose I have lost my crypto currency asset on BTC-e, because BTC-e admin is accused as gangster

    • I sure hope you haven’t! But, in the U.S., it is common for law enforcement to confiscate a car or house or other property that belongs to X just because Y has used it in a crime or is suspected of doing so.

  • Dr. Bubó

    Why is it better if they take your BTC not your cash?
    Or, if you could hide your paper wallet why couldn’t you hide your cash or gold???

    • SHHHHHhhhhhushhhh…you don’t have cash or gold…right??? Nod your head… Knowledge of your wealth and whiff of a crime is all the cops need to launch surveillance and attach every location to a seizure claim.

      • Dr. Bubó

        Just asking questions, man, I am poor like a church mouse! 🙂

        • Me, too. At least you are dreaming bigger, no law against that, yet…

        • De Wilde Weldoener

          The idea is that the pigs can’t steal your BTC if you are storing it properly.
          They could steal your phone but if you set your wallet app up properly they won’t get access to your bitcoin.
          They could steal a hardware wallet if you are carrying one on you, but set up properly they can’t access your bitcoin from that either.

          Don’t use paper wallets, they provide no security, when you steal a paper wallet, you steal the bitcoin on it.

          • Dr. Bubó

            How could a hardware wallet save my coins if I don’t get it back?

          • De Wilde Weldoener

            The coins are not on the hardware wallet, they are on the public ledger.
            What the (hardware)wallet holds is your private key, which provides access to your coins on the public ledger.

            A wallet app and hardware wallet both have the option of encrypting the private key they hold by setting up an additional password.
            Someone can steal the hardware wallet, or the phone with the wallet app on it, but if they don’t have that password, all they steal is a device with an encrypted private key on it, and they have no realistic chance of decrypting that without the password that only you the owner know.

            Meanwhile, assuming you the owner are free to go, you can use one of any number of paper copies of your private key you have made earlier (in the form of a 12 word seed phrase) to restore access to your coins on a fresh phone wallet app, or new hardware wallet device, it takes 5 minutes.
            You remember the password needed (if they didn’t hit you over the head too hard) and the only thing you lost is a phone or hardware wallet device, you don’t lose any coins.

            If you never write the password down anywhere (risky) and only write down the seed phrase, someone would not even be able to steal your coins by stealing your seed phrase, because they still don’t have the password.

          • Great advice. The password, passphrase, and private key is the best way on paper or hardware. Its a lot to remember, but it is our best defense from theft.

          • Billy Williams

            Best way is to memorize the pass phase. It could be the name of your dog in a sentence with spaces in between words , or anything. Never write it down. Always keep in memory Use a wallet that lets the owner of the private keys make his own phase up, Compile the wallet offline of course.This is the best security feature of wallets that hold private keys.

          • I agree with Patrick’s comment below. Great advice and very clearly stated.

          • Dr. Bubó

            Still need the seed phase + remember a password. So it is the same as having a paper wallet with the last few characters missing of the private key, which I could memorise. Except, the paper wallet doesn’t cost any money.

          • De Wilde Weldoener

            A paper wallet costs less than a hardware wallet because it offers less security.
            AFAIK to import a private key from paper you need to use a hot wallet, even if it is just a moment, your private key has gone through an online device thus negating the entire security aspect of the paper wallet.
            Whereas importing a seed phrase from paper can be done directly by a hardware wallet without ever going through an online device.

            The hardware wallet lets you go from a paper backup to a spendable hardware wallet without ever having your private key or seed phrase on an online device.

          • Dr. Bubó

            OK, got it, thank you.

    • Good afternoon. It is not better for the police to take one form of wealth rather than another but it is far easier for them to find cash or other physical assets in your car (for example, during a search on suspicion of posessing drugs) than it is to find a protected wallet on your smartphone. You can always hide cash, of course, but people often need or like to transport it on vacations etc. and even hiding can be a problem. For example, Massachusetts is in the process of making it illegal to have a hidden compartment in your vehicle even if that compartment is empty. That’s prima facia evidence of a crime. Moreover, police can be very thorough and clever about finding hidden cash when the proceeds of the discovery go into their own pockets. The less physical your wealth is, the more protected by passwords, etc….the safer it is.

      • BTCD

        I can though carry a rock worth millions through most situations without it being seized and I don’t have to worry about a PK and SP being kept separately and all that that entails. I agree lugging around bars of gold is hard to do and I think I alluded to it in an earlier post here or on another bitcoin dot com editorial (maybe yours). No point to make really other than there are other forms of wealth that have been decentralized for thousands of years and can be carried around quite easily. Do you have to worry about their origins and weather they were obtained through the oppression/expense of others, sure. Unfortunately the same can be said for cryptocurrencies which can be coming from forced labour, sexual slavery, commercial sexual exploitation or drug trafficking. Remember I am pro decentralized crypto 😉

  • Another great article. I am sure an eye opener for all. Usually, when I talk about avoiding seizure with my business partners, I am thought of as a conspiracy nut or at the most right but wrong about the details. Wendy, you are spot on, again. A patriot knows their country, good and bad, and tries to keep her from harm. An even greater patriot will keep her from harming herself, her citizens. Just because you are an Officer of the Court, Attorney, or Judge, it does not make you trustworthy. With great power should come great restraint to use that power. Every Court official I have talked to blurred Patriotism with Law Abiding. Your article makes these Laws glaringly unpatriotic. I have seen cops cheer and high five each other over finding bricks of cash, it is unfortunately their badge of honor and respect and promotion that fills their head and entices them to do it more often. Some of them think and advise the target that it is easy to get it back if innocent, most know this is a lie. The Lawmakers or politicians know very well that it is hard by design to rid yourself of being linked to a crime by their design of the very Law you the citizen allow them to pass. Tremble, thou wretch, That has within thee undivulged crimes, Unwhipp’d of justice, William Shakespeare, King Lear. The vision of America was to rid us of prejudgments and the terror of the State. Unfortunately, I was only taught this as a “was”. I have never seen balanced scales or blind Lady Justice. And, I wish people would wake up, more and more and become the greater patriots. Your articles do help.

    • InOneHour

      Great post…if you watch old TV episodes of 1Adam12 or dragnet, you will get a clear picture of how many legal protections are now gone forever.

      • Yes. Those shows and that generation wanted to be sure they had it right. They had a conscious and limited their ego. Even though the shows portrayed Law Enforcement, they rightly pointed out the humanity of the time. Those shows came out at a time when society was changing and it felt like they were trying to make an effort to sustain a good message and example. Just the facts, Ma’am.

  • danystatic

    This is what I like to read. I like reading related articles.

    As I read through this article, I can imagine the same System which is meant to protect us, also act against us. But not everyone of us. Therefore its a great sytem for the masses. But there are exceptions.

    Crypto sure is yours, but if its on a exchange we better watch out and be careful.
    Yesterday night one exchange had trouble reaching / resolving its name by the DNS server. It reminded me I’m not safe even from exchange, even less by “theft by cop”.

    • Thank you, danystatic. One of the reasons I have abandoned exchanges is that accounts in many of them are as vulnerable to being frozen, confiscated, invasively reported, etc. as accounts at traditional banks. “Theft by cop” aka “policing for profit” could become a common problem. Thanks for the comment. And I hope people remember to secure their bitcoins NOW if they are stored on an exchange. Don’t get any closer to August 1st.

  • BTCD

    “…is authorized whenever the conduct giving rise to the seizure violates federal law.” In short, local police have the authority to seize property under federal law.” Is this not different though than just suspicion of illegal activity? I take the above excerpt from the letter by Sessions to mean if “the conduct” by the person(s) actually violates federal law? Maybe I am reading it wrong but it seems to be less loose than the civil forfeiture law in that the letter is stating that a federal crime must have been committed. Anyways, a mute point really on a great article. I was unaware of the extreme of this forfeiture law. So, will this apply to the recent takedown of the two darknet markets? Will the the “merchants” (used loosely) of these markets lose all their cryptocurrency without any trial or charges being imposed?

    • You are very smart, you spotted the hypocrisy. General Sessions is giving cover in Federal Courts to wage that very argument. However you dice it, it has been authorized and now the Attorney General has made it legal by promulgation. Dictate. He has adjoined every State Law in Seizures to violations in Federal Law. Of course his cover is his zeal for Gangs and Drug Traffickers, but I doubt he nor the following AG will pull back the promulgation once the zeal has been satiated.

      • Exactly correct. It is just one example of how Sessions/the federal government is on a collision course with at leastsome of the states on issues like the drug war and illegal immigration. It still surprises me to see Democrats become advocates of states’ rights now that the federal government is GOP.

        • When the Dems become the Majority and have the power of the purse, the power they advocate today for States will be arrested back to Central Authority of the Fed. When it comes to power, the power to decide the process for the citizens, all parties look like teams changing sides in a ball game. I wonder if anyone would agree that a politician voluntarily debar themselves from practicing Law while they make the the Laws and one-step further recuse all their related businesses from association of the Laws they build. You can find cross relation with most politicians. We must demand our politicians to stay focused on reducing Law building and therefore reducing their right of oversight. It’s big money to get elected and even bigger money for constituents helping the politician build Laws. Our Government has become a business with less and less reporting to Us without independent accounting, ethic reviews or process pairing. Things that are demanded by shareholders in every large corporation, Public or Private. When a Corporation loses trust and goes bankrupt, it is dissolved and liquidated to satisfy its debt to the shareholders or largest harmed stakeholders. Instead, Politicians create causes to institute more control on our behalf and behest. The Drug War because safe drugs are expensive and a black market has arose. Illegal Immigration because employing a citizen is a Capital investment on so many fronts. These two subjects can go around and around with each other and feed other intentions. The Bad Intention for me is it erodes my citizenship and De Jure Right of this Land, it feels like an invasion of legalities a minefield of consequences placed in my way. I was born here and part of my Family is related to this Land well before Other Countries People could arrive here. I always have to remind every Enforcement action of my facts well before I get a new idea rolling. Declare myself like a foreigner to my own Land. If you spend time in Court or a part of a Commision of Public Funds, you will see Lawyers very comfortable with their arduous processes of introduction and standing as if born to it. It is hard to remind well-taught Lawyers what this Land was like or is like far removed from their Laws and Court Rooms. I know Politicians are just litigant representatives and this is the shame of the system, today. I don’t see Sessions making a decision on his own for a good, that would be affectual, I see him adding one more control mechanism to an end we are not made aware of.

      • BTCD

        I agree, once this has been done, gangs and drug traffickers will be the hurt by this and as you stated there will never be pullback once they get their arms around this.

    • No, a crime does not have to be committed nor a person to be charged before his assets can be seized…a suspicion of criminal activity in the opinion of a law enforcement agent is sufficient. If a state law in question requires a conviction before seizure, then the federal law can take over jurisdiction simply by becoming involved. Sessions’ letter seems almost purposefully oblique, I agree, but the legal meaning is clear once it is broken down. Here are two break downs, one by an economic site, the other by a legal one.

      • BTCD

        Thanks, the links certainly added additional context to the particular snippet in question and makes it quite clear what Sessions intentions are. Nasty. They intend to exploit the current state forfeiture laws with a further erosion of our rights. Scary stuff….

  • Good evening: I will be dropping by the commentary section tonight and tomorrow in order to chat and to answer questions.

  • JdL

    Thanks, Wendy, it’s always good to have a reiteration of the actions and plans of the thugs who run the criminal organization called the U.S. government (and the similar organizations at the state, county, and local levels). However, I wouldn’t put my assets into cryptocurrencies today: they’re too volatile for my taste.

  • Fritz Knese

    More and more I see the cause of individual liberty as hopeless. It is especially frustrating to see the enemies of freedom worshipped in some Orwellian doublethink manner as heroes. Cops are the thugs who steal our liberty, yet even most libertarians see individual cops as just doing their jobs. Their job is to steal your liberty. We should respect that?