The Foundation for Economic Education has a long expose of the history of civil asset forfeiture in this country and it points a finger directly at Joe Biden for the law that allows the government to seize cash and property from someone they think got it through illegal activities without even bothering to charge them with the crime.
Civil asset forfeiture first was authorized in the 1970s, but the law then required that the owner of the property be tried and convicted for the crime. Then Biden wrote legislation that eliminated that requirement:
But Meese, Weld, and everyone else seemed to agree that forfeiture laws didn’t go nearly far enough. By requiring an indictment, the government still had to meet some standard of reasonable guilt before seizing property, which allowed far too many criminals that law enforcement knew to be guilty (but couldn’t build a case against) to keep their ill-gotten gains…
The Comprehensive Forfeiture Act fixed all of these problems. The new bill was introduced by Senator Joe Biden in 1983 and it was signed into law the next year. With this law, federal agents had nearly unlimited powers to seize assets from private citizens. Now the government only needed to find a way to let local and state police join the party.This came with the 1984 Comprehensive Crime Control Act. In addition to a slew of new powers for prosecutors, the burden of proof for asset seizure was lowered once again (agents had to only believe that what they were seizing was equal in value to money believed to have been purchased from drug sales). More significantly, the bill started the “equitable sharing” program that allowed local and state law enforcement to retain up to 80 percent of the assets seized.
Thankfully, state governments have begun to forbid the practice. Unfortunately, there’s a loophole there. Local police departments get a federal agency involved in the situation, they seize the property and then share the proceeds from their sale. But now the Supreme Court is sending signs that they are ready to revisit their earlier approval of this practice. In February they issued a unanimous ruling that said that such seizures are a fine and thus cannot be excessive. In that case, the government seized a $42,000 Land Rover for a crime of selling $400 worth of heroin. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Supreme Court at some point soon, if they get an appropriate case, will reverse their earlier rulings and say that the government cannot seize property without a conviction. That would restore fidelity to the Constitution in this matter and would be a major advance in civil liberties.
I’d really like to see someone ask Biden about this soon. I’m curious to see if he would defend it or say he no longer supports the law.