I open here with the text of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Why? Because it seems to be one of those little protections of our liberties that is easily overlooked or set aside when it suits the majority, or at least those in power.
The case in point is Richland, Mississippi a small city of 7,033. They have stumbled upon a great new financing scheme that will save the taxpayers of the community enormous sums of money. Actually, they did not stumble upon the idea. It’s been around for several decades. But they are making use of it in a manner so effective that this small community is able to fund a $4.1 million police station and law enforcement center.
The financing idea? It’s called “Civil Asset Forfeiture”. Sounds pretty official, huh? Must be important…must be …legal.
Here’s how it works. It has been determined that people carrying large amounts of cash are frequently drug dealers. Having the cash in Mississippi constitutes a preponderance of evidence that you are a drug dealer, whether or not drugs are found or there is any other evidence that you are dealing drugs. Therefore, the police have the right to seize the cash. At that point, the alleged drug dealer is required to prove that he/she is not a drug dealer in order to get their cash back. … Huh?
What happened to the “Presumption of Innocence”? You know, innocent until proven guilty? I hate to be a nitpicker, but that’s kind of an important aspect of living in a free society, don’t you think? You know, the guarantee that the government can’t come lock you up in the middle of the night and hold you until you prove somehow that you are innocent of whatever trumped up charge they have concocted.
Consider the following scenario:
- You are driving along I-20 in Mississippi and pass through the jurisdiction of Richland.
- In the time it takes to pass through the small community, one of Richland’s finest, operating under the direction of the Chief of Police and City Council, observes you fail to signal a lane change.
- You are pulled over. The officer checks things out and asks if he can look through your vehicle.
- You ask, why.
- He explains that I-20 is a known drug trafficking corridor, or maybe your vehicle fits the description of one used in a crime “somewhere”.
- You shrug and give permission. You haven’t done anything wrong.
- During the search, perfectly legal because you gave permission, the officer discovers the $10,000 in cash in the glove box that you were taking to your mother-in-law to help with her surgery, or to pay for the used car you bought on Craig’s list…or to buy drugs in San Francisco.
- The cash is confiscated whether or not there is sufficient probable cause to place you under arrest for any crime.
- Okay, so you think, it’s good they are trying to catch drug dealers…that gives them a perfectly good reason to violate your rights…Right?
- In order to have your cash returned, you must prove it was not going to be used in the illegal drug trade, a very difficult proposition.
- Even if you are successful, it is likely that you will not see your cash again for years, if ever.
Think it can’t happen? The Founders of the nation experienced such practices on a personal level. Such were the tactics of the occupying British forces. Anyone they suspected or didn’t much like could be arrested for anything, or have property seized, at any time and they would then be required to prove they were not guilty…that they were good, loyal British citizens, loyal to the tyrannical monarchy across the Atlantic.
The same tactic has been used by every totalitarian regime. Nazis, Communists, Fascists, Racists, have all used their power to take people at the point of a gun, imprison them and then require them to prove their innocence.
By the way, these tactics are almost always positioned to be for the good of the law abiding citizens…i.e. those who agree with the government.
So the Founders included a couple of Amendments to the Constitution that address police powers. These concepts were so important that they included them in what is known as “Bill of Rights”. The Fourth Amendment addresses the limitations of police powers regarding unlawful search and seizure. The Eighth Amendment states that states should not engage in cruel or unusual punishments for crimes, or set unreasonable bails.
These Amendments were set in place to “LIMIT” government’s powers to intrude into the lives of the people. But time passes and we become comfortable and then we…declare war on something.
Amazing, isn’t it that when we declare war on something, we immediately feel the government has a legitimate right to violate our rights. In this case we declared the “War on Drugs”.
Consequently, free citizens have accepted the idea that it is perfectly acceptable for police and prosecutors and courts to routinely violate the Fourth and Eighth Amendments for the good of the people. And that is how it starts.
That is how Freedom is lost. Usually, it is not taken from us by force. It is taken because we relinquish it. Hitler was democratically elected to power. He seized ultimate control after his legitimate election as chancellor. Germany of that era was desperate for a leader to take control to make things better, to bring Germany back its pre-World War I glory and influence.
We can debate the legality of drug use and sales some other time. As a matter of interest, I don’t use drugs (unless you count beer) and counsel my children strongly not use drugs. I am opposed to the use of narcotics in general, for me and those I care about. You do what you want with your family.
But drugs aren’t the issue here. Liberty is the issue.
When we accept the violation of the rights of others, whether or not we think they may be engaged in criminal activity, we ultimately open the door for Our Rights To Be Violated. It is only a matter of time.
For the record, I was a cop. Admittedly, it was a long time ago…back in the 70s and 80s (yes I’m an old fart too) I mention this so that you do not misconstrue what I have said as being unsupportive of law enforcement. I’ve been in their shoes, stood toe to toe with the bad guys (thugs as we call them today). I love cops and what they do for us. I understand their call to duty.
I am also an American. More than that, I am a believer in Liberty and Freedom for everyone. I’m not sure anymore that all Americans believe that. Sometimes it seems that we have become a nation that believes in freedom for everyone, as long as they agree with us.
If you believe in Freedom, you must believe in it for everyone, not just those who agree with you.