COMMENTARY: “Civil asset forfeiture is a cancer that eats at the very heart of the integrity of the American judicial system.” — Brad Cates
Some may think it odd that a friend of mine, Brad Cates, opposes civil asset forfeiture since years ago he was the director of the Department of Justice Forfeiture Program. He knows better than anyone else the strengths and weaknesses of that program.
I’ve known Brad Cates since 1970 when we both served in the New Mexico State University Student Senate. Later he ran successfully for student body president. After graduation I worked at KOB-TV in Albuquerque and Brad was a New Mexico legislator. We talked often.
Then he moved to Washington, D.C. and I lost contact with him until recently, when he returned to Las Cruces.
It pleases me that he opposes the taking of cash and assets from citizens who have not been convicted of a crime. This is a subject that I have written about several times. There is no place in a nation of laws for citizens to lose assets without legal process.
Years ago when Brad Cates became involved as the director of the DOJ Forfeiture Program, the drug cartels and mafia had resources they used that were gained by illegal actions. So it was thought that the police should not allow criminals to use their ill-begotten gains.
Then our police departments noticed that it was also a convenient way to get additional financial resources to bolster their budgets. Citizens who were not indicted or convicted were fleeced of their assets so that police departments could grow on stolen money.
Never-convicted, law-abiding citizens have been and are victimized by this immoral use of police force. The Washington Post in 2014 wrote that $2.5 billion in cash alone has been taken from citizens since 2001. It was done without warrants or indictments.
But the practice is growing. In 2014 alone, according to the Washington Post, the take was $5 billion. That $5 billion was more than was lost in all burglary that year.
So Brad Cates has been pushing to rein in the practice. I noticed one of his quotes in The Santa Fe New Mexican and contacted him.
He explained that he is a proponent of taking the profit and proceeds from convicted drug dealers, terrorist, racketeers, child pornographers and other serious criminals in a process called criminal forfeiture. However, he is against taking assets from citizens not charged or convicted of a crime. Me too.
It is unfortunate for liberty in our country that civil asset forfeiture is in nearly four hundred federal laws along with similar laws in many states. There has been a flash fire of protest by New Mexico citizens about police departments taking cars from citizens without going before a judge.
Please understand it has not happened to me or anyone I know; rather, I protest this action since, while legal, it is immoral. There is something that we can do about this if you will help.
The next meeting of the New Mexico Legislature will be in January 2017. All 112 members of the legislature are up for re-election this year. Today is a great time to find your legislator or person running for the Legislature and bend his or her ear that a law needs to be passed — and upheld if vetoed — to end all forfeiture without legal action. No exceptions.
This is the time of year that you can spend time with these politicians and they will listen, since there is the November election.
One more thing: Shame on town councils and police departments that justify this immoral practice because they say they need the money. If so, then fire every municipal worker who isn’t day-to-day keeping the municipality going. The police, fire, sewage, water, trash and traffic workers are safe.
Instead fire all public relations workers, extra program workers, art festivals and other nice-to-have but not critical programs. If we have to steal assets from citizens without judicial review, we can do without those services. Again, all they have to do is use forfeiture after judicial conviction and I will support their actions.
You can contact Brad Cates through his website: bradcates.com.
Michael Swickard is a former radio talk show host and has been a columnist for 30 years in a number of New Mexico newspapers.