Uncle Sam is Hooked on Forfeiture and Seizure and Just Can't Stop It!
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Uncle Sam is Hooked on Forfeiture and Seizure and Just Can't Stop It!

by Leon Felkins

While the Congress has pondered long and hard on the theoretical possibility of restraining government abuse of the "Forfeiture and Seizure" variety, and will agree with you most profusely that "something really ought to be done about it", in actual practice they continue to expand the application of "it".

Today, in attempt to amuse myself and get over the holiday blahs, I decided to see what they have been up to this session. Not good.

By simply prowling through the wonderful "THOMAS: U.S. Congress on the Internet", I found the following proposed or actual laws (emphasis added by me):

  1. Catch the wrong fish and you may lose your boat before you can get him off the hook and back in the water. A quote from the Public Law: 105-146 (signed 12/16/97):

    "Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act Amendments of 1997 - Amends the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act to replace the existing Act with provisions requiring a moratorium on fishing for Atlantic striped bass in the coastal waters of a State that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Secretaries of Commerce and the Interior determine is not complying with the Commission's plan for managing Atlantic striped bass. Provides for civil penalties and forfeiture of vessels, gear, and fish for violations of the moratorium. "

  2. How rich can you get seizing the belongings of those on Food Stamps?

    I quote H. R. 273, sub-titled

    "To amend the Food Stamp Act of 1977 to require States to use electronic benefit transfer systems, and for other purposes."
    Sounds tame enough so far. But what evil lurks down in the bowels of the thing? I quote:

    "(C) The provisions of chapter 46 of title 18, United States Code, relating to civil forfeitures shall extend to a seizure or forfeiture under this subsection, insofar as applicable and not inconsistent with the provisions of this subsection, except that such duties as are imposed upon the Secretary of the Treasury under such chapter 46 may also be performed with respect to seizures and forfeitures under this section by such officers, agents, or other persons as designated for that purpose by the Secretary. Civil forfeitures imposed under this subsection shall be in addition to any criminal sanctions imposed against the owner of the forfeited property.

    "(D) The proceeds from any sale of forfeited property and any monies forfeited under this subsection shall be used--

    "(i) first, to reimburse the Department of Justice for the costs incurred by the Department to initiate and complete the forfeiture proceeding;

    "(ii) second, to reimburse the Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General for any costs the Office incurred in the law enforcement effort resulting in the forfeiture;

    "(iii) third, to reimburse any Federal or State law enforcement agency for any costs incurred in the law enforcement effort resulting in the forfeiture; and

    "(iv) fourth, by the Secretary to carry out the approval, reauthorization, and compliance investigations of retail stores and wholesale food concerns under section 9."

    Well, there you go. Most folks I know on food stamps own little more than a Barlow pocket knife and a one-eyed hound dog (I live in Mississippi) and live in a trailer in which ownership could not be quickly proven. I don't think the federal gestapo will get much from this one.

  3. H.R.1996, "Handgun Control Act of 1997"

    Well, this you would expect, I suppose. Anyway, here is what it says:

    "Establishes procedures and requirements regarding: (1) approval or denial of applications; (2) license revocation, including notice and opportunity for a hearing; (3) review by the Secretary and appeal of application denials; (4) records requirements by licensed clubs; and (5) license posting and availability for inspection on the premises covered by the licensee.

    Sets penalties for violations. Subjects handguns involved, used, or intended to be used in violation of Federal firearms provisions to seizure and forfeiture and makes all provisions of the Internal Revenue Code relating to seizure, forfeiture, and disposition of firearms, so far as applicable, extend to such seizures and forfeitures. "

    I think there may be some severe "gotchas" there but I don't have time to research it.

  4. Counterfeit Access Devices


    SPONSOR: Sen D'Amato (introduced 09/04/97)



    A bill to amend title 49, United States Code, to require the forfeiture of counterfeit access devices and device-making equipment.

    "Amends Federal transportation law to declare counterfeit access devices and device-making equipment contraband subject to mandatory seizure and forfeiture."

    Well, what are we talking about here? Duplicate key for the apartment? What can it be extended to tomorrow, is the real question.

  5. "Evasive Action" in your Auto


    SPONSOR: Sen Dorgan (introduced 09/29/97)

    A bill to amend title 23, United States Code, to provide for a national program concerning motor vehicle pursuits by law enforcement officers, and for other purposes.

    "National Police Pursuit Policy Act of 1997 - Prohibits the Secretary of Transportation from approving the highway safety program of a State that does not have in effect by January 1, 1999: (1) a law that makes it unlawful for the driver of a motor vehicle to increase speed or to take any other deliberately evasive action if a law enforcement officer clearly signals the driver to stop the motor vehicle and that subjects any driver who violates that law to a minimum penalty of three months' imprisonment and seizure of the motor vehicle"

    There could be trouble there. "Evasive action" is in the eye of the beholder. (Note the standard extortion of the states in this clause -- commonly used by the feds to get around the Constitutional limitation of federal harassment to "interstate commerce".)

  6. Switching Phone Companies



    A bill to amend the Communications Act of 1934 to enhance protections against unauthorized changes of telephone service subscribers from one telecommunications carrier to another, and for other purposes.

    "Subjects carriers that violate verification procedures with respect to such changes to additional fines and penalties, including a forfeiture penalty. "

    Hey, hey, hey -- now we are getting somewhere. The next time IDT grabs my long distance service without my permission, the feds will grab their property and we taxpayers now own a phone company! Neat! (The feds already own casinos, yachts, racehorses and for a while, a Whore House that they have obtained through seizures -- which, by law, they must keep operating. Can you imagine these things operated by bureaucrats?)

  7. What to do with the loot?


    SPONSOR: Rep Skaggs (introduced 07/29/97)



    A bill to amend the Fish and Wildlife Improvement Act of 1978 to enable the Secretary of the Interior to more effectively utilize the proceeds of sales of certain items.

    ". . .provide that revenues received from the disposition of abandoned or forfeited fish, wildlife, plants, or items relating to them and sums received under specified Federal law as penalties, fines, or forfeitures of property resulting from violations against fish, wildlife, or plants shall be available for: . . ." and so on, blah, blah, blah

Like a crack addict or -- better -- a serial rapist/killer, Uncle Sam just can't quit even though he feels a bit guilty about it. And like the rapist/killer, when the public squeals it just makes it a little more exciting!


More of Leon Felkins' essays may be found on his home page, A Rational Life.

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