Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The “Anything Exception” To The Bill Of Rights

There is no “drug exception” to the Constitution.
Thurgood Marshall, dissenting
Skinner v. Railway Labor Executive Association

That’s a quote by Justice Thurgood Marshall, who reminded the Court that there are no exceptions to the Constitution, even when drugs are involved. Sounds good… on paper. As do a lot of noble-sounding pronouncements. For example, here’s another really good one: “Property is seized by the DEA only when it is determined to be a tool for, or the proceeds of, illegal activities such as drug trafficking, organized crime, or money laundering.” That’s taken from the DEA’s web site. But in practice, neither of these statements turns out to be true. Don’t take my word for it—I could easily be lying. After all, who are you going to believe, some anonymous blogger or your government? So go ahead, spend a few minutes with Google and find out for yourself. I’ll wait.

See, I told you.

So how is it that this “drug exception” to the Bill of Rights works exactly? Leave it to those tricksters running things to come up with a rationalization that, although it makes absolutely no sense to a normal person, is totally convincing to legislators and supreme court justices. The “trick” is that you are not charged with a crime, your property is. But wait, there’s more. Rather than going through a criminal court, the federal government pursues property forfeiture cases in civil court. Do you see where I’m going with this? The U.S. government sues your property. You’re just an interested third party. And here’s the really tricky part: unlike in a criminal case where you are innocent until proven guilty, your property is guilty until proven innocent. The burden is on you to prove that your property was not involved in a crime, even though in some cases, no human was ever charged with a crime.

Now take a few deep breaths and let that sink in. Because you’re really going to like this next part, and I don’t want you to miss it.

Here’s a really funny (not “ha ha” funny) result of such a twisted process. These court cases are recorded as the U.S. Government versus a piece of property. For example, U.S. v. A Parcel of Land Known as 4492 South Lavonia Road, or U.S. v. one 1998 Mercedes Benz, or my personal favorite, U.S. v. $2,452.

What’d I tell you? It makes absolutely no sense to anyone outside the government. It’s totally insane. But in practice, it’s one of those made-up loopholes that lets federal authorities get away with just about anything.

And just when you though it couldn’t get any worse, there’s more. What do you think happens to all that loot that the federal government “seizes”? Well, that’s a little harder to say. In many cases, the plundered loot is kept by the agency that took it. Even better, it was ruled in one case that individual officers could receive “bounties” of 25 percent of the value of anything they seize. How’s that for an incentive to keep our law enforcement officials on the trail of dangerous dope peddlers. If I could go out and legally “seize” money and property, then keep what I took, I wouldn’t have the time to be sitting around writing stuff like this.

In summary, this is how it works: The government declares “war” on some thing (e.g., drugs), or even on some abstract concept (e.g., terror). They are then free to invoke emergency war-time powers to do whatever is necessary to win their war. That usually involves completely disregarding some part or parts of the Constitution, usually the Bill of Rights. I don’t really understand how this works, but maybe I’m just too thick. Maybe there’s some part of the Constitution that I missed, the part where it lists the circumstances under which it can be disregarded. I’d really appreciate it if someone would point that part out to me.

Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
Benjamin Franklin

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