For the egregious crime of being in the right lane at the wrong time, a driver was pulled over in Lowndes County, Georgia. Thanks to the heroic efforts of one Georgia State Police dog, and his faithful officer, a major threat to the people of Georgia is off the streets.
The responding police dog, Brutus, made a major bust. The vehicle was transporting $36,000 of cash; an imminent danger to Georgians across the state.
The cash may have eluded officers if not for the quick thinking of Brutus. He sat down next to the car to let officers know the money was being stored in a speaker inside the vehicle. The officer was quick to confiscate the cash, take a picture of it for social media, and let the driver go.
Wait, the police let the driver get away? Yes, they did. The driver was not charged an actual crime, and no one was arrested during the “major bust” that took place. The driver’s only crime was carrying cash.
Under Georgia’s criminal code officers can take property from any citizen they suspect may be part of a criminal enterprise. In this case, the only hunch officers had of criminal activity was Brutus the dog taking a seat.
The police took more than half of the state’s median yearly income from someone because a dog sat next to their car. If you think this is a horrific injustice, you should feel relieved to know the overwhelming majority of Americans agree with you.
Civil asset forfeiture is the formal name for this form of state sanctioned theft. It has become a hot topic in the last few years for Americans concerned about their fundamental rights. The practice is troublingly common among law enforcement agencies at all levels of government.
Its history of abuse has resulted in BILLIONS of dollars taken from Americans who were never charged with a crime. While marginalized groups are the most likely victims, anyone can be targeted. From entrepreneurs and small business owners to Christian music groups, law enforcement agencies only see dollar signs.
A growing number of states have implemented forfeiture reforms aimed at holding police agencies accountable. They aim to protect citizen’s right to due process supposedly guaranteed by the Constitution. Unfortunately for this driver, and the rest of the country, state laws may soon be futile. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced a federal policy to ignore state statutes prohibiting civil asset forfeiture.
To be clear, the Attorney General is the top official appointed to keep the rule of law alive in America. Instead, he is encouraging law enforcement agencies to seize property from law-abiding citizens. We’re supposed to be assumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Sessions’ reversal of justice reform raises serious civil rights concerns.
The government can take your money simply because a dog gets tired of standing. But you may find it a relief that some elected officials are making it a priority to end this archaic and evil practice once and for all. States may lead the way, but Jeff Sessions’ actions make it clear that there needs to be real reform at the federal level.
In reality, impactful reforms are nowhere near the horizon. If you are concerned with protecting your assets from government seizures you are best taking matters into your own hands. Of course, the state doesn’t make that easy.
Officials have gone out of their way to ensure any legal protections you thought you had go out the window when stopped by police on the road. As the example in Georgia shows, the victim looked to store his money in a speaker system to keep it out of plain sight. But Brutus made short work of that tactic.
Others have gone further by making alterations to the interior of their vehicles. But in a case that went to the Supreme Court, the state gave itself the right to physically tear your car apart in search of anything valuable (Carroll v. United States U.S. 132, 1925). The state also deemed it appropriate for officers to search any containers, including locked safes, inside a stopped vehicle (California v. Acevedo 500 U.S. 565, 1991).
To recap, imagine you are traveling in a vehicle and are pulled over, for even the most minor traffic violation, like looking nervous. Suppose the responding officer can establish probable cause, like having his dog sit. They can then destroy anything inside your car, including the seats. They can take anything they find without charging you with a crime.
What can you do in the face of this draconian action by the state? Digitize your assets.
As the law currently stands going digital is the best way to get around forfeiture. Using decentralized online currencies, you can side step efforts to police for profit.
Luckily officials have not yet devised a way to completely gut the Fifth Amendment. Federal courts have ruled that law enforcement cannot coerce you into revealing passwords to your electronic devices. To keep your wealth safe from state led highway robbery, keep your money online with hefty encryption.
The law allows, and incentivizes, law enforcement agencies to use asset forfeiture. Citizens can live with the fear of their money being taken on a whim. Or, individuals can stand up, en masse, to challenge this egregious and open aggression against innocent citizens.
Until then, the best bet to keep the greedy hands of government out of your pockets is to seek refuge in blockchain technology. If you need to move lots of cash, digitize your wealth.