Most of us are familiar with the fifth amendment and the legal phrase, "pleading the fifth." But the fifth amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a lot more than just that we can't be forced to testify against ourselves. The amendment reads as follows:
Sounds pretty clear cut, right? For over two centuries, this paragraph has protected Americans from forfeiting their property to the government without due process of the law. Increasingly, though, police departments are using federal RICO laws to strip citizens of their private property without any due process and without any clear evidence of wrong doing. Rand Paul has been featuring a few stories of egregious abuses by law enforcement who seized property without cause:
Property forfeiture rules are based on the concept that property can be guilty of committing a crime and therefore can be seized. Law enforcement does not have to prove illegal activity--they merely have to show that they are suspicious that this activity has occurred, and they can basically take what they want and, in most cases, keep it. Laws that were originally written to rein in organized crime decades ago are now being turn on ordinary citizens to deprive them of their property without so much as a hearing.
For anyone out there who actually thinks this is a good idea, let me remind you that our constitutional protections of life, liberty and property are an anomaly around the world. America has long been the exception, not the rule. In countries where law enforcement is permitted this kind of heavy-handed abuse of the populace, crime does not drop. In fact, it increases because the citizenry is afraid to call the police, fearing that the cops will do worse things to them than the criminals will.
I spent nearly all of my life living on the Mexican border in El Paso, Texas, and I witnessed first hand what it means to live in a society where the police are feared and vilified. I experienced this up close and personal a few years ago when a real estate agent I knew was being stalked. Lorena (not her real name) was receiving harassing and threatening phone calls at her home late at night and she became terrified. I told her that she had to call the police and she became even more terrified. Lorena's fear had nothing to do with her visa status--she and her husband and all of her adult children were U.S. citizens. Rather, she feared the police because she was born into a society where calling the police routinely resulted in robbery, sexual assault or some other abuse. The message on the border was clear--no matter what happens to you NEVER involve the police; they will make whatever problem you have much worse.
What has made the U.S. exceptional has been, in part, a system of clearly written and evenly enforced laws by trained law enforcement who are held accountable for their actions. No system is perfect, but we prosecute our law enforcement when they are discovered breaking the law. Citizens are "innocent until proven guilty." The Constitution protects life, liberty and PROPERTY and those protections provide a framework in which we can prosper as a society.
Unfortunately, the forfeiture laws and practices that are springing up around America threaten to morph us into a society very much like Mexico, where the police are feared, where property is subject to confiscation and where the only rights belong to the government. That is why Paul's legislation is so important. We need to close the loopholes and make property forfeiture difficult and expensive for the government. We need to restore the citizens' trust in government by making government accountable for its actions. And we need to do it now, before we begin to see generations of Americans grow up who expect government to be corrupt and abusive. When that happens, we have already lost the battle for individual liberty and constitutional rights.
Alexandra Swann is the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen and several other books. Her novel, The Planner, about an out of control, environmentally-driven federal government implementing Agenda 21, is available on Kindle and in paperback. For more information, visit her website at http://www.frontier2000.net.