In America, we’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. In theory, this means that until a court of your peers has found you guilty, you are treated as though you are innocent.
In practice, however, when you are charged you are presumed guilty until proven innocent. This week, the Supreme Court took it even further. If you are suspected of a crime, you are guilty until proven innocent.
In Kaley v. United States, the court ruled 6-3 that law enforcement can freeze a person’s assets during a grand jury indictment as part of a legal tactic known as civil forfeiture.
Essentially, civil forfeiture allows law enforcement to seize people’s property who are suspected of being involved in a crime without having to charge them. If this sounds fishy, it is. The justification was to combat the drug trade, which used private companies to transport narcotics. Any vehicle, plane, boat or ship seized carrying drugs could also be taken. If a person’s property is seized, they must then prove they are innocent and sue the government to get it back.
The problem should be fairly clear to anyone with an ounce of critical thinking skills. If they don’t have to prove guilt, then what’s to stop law enforcement agencies from taking property they want and leaving it to the owner to fight for it, since they don’t have to go through the trouble of charging them or prosecuting them for violation of the law?
Not to mention this is as big a violation of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution as it gets.
A section of the amendment reads as follows:
No person shall be…deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.
For anyone but a lawyer, this is pretty straightforward and easy to understand. Until you have been proven guilty in a court of law, there is a presumption of innocence. Innocence means you are free. This comes from a Latin phrase – Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat – the burden of proof is on he who declares, not on he who denies.
This is the opposite of what we hear today, where “if you’ve done nothing wrong you’ve got nothing to hide” is used as a gotcha statement. To put it another way, if you can’t prove you’re innocent you’re not.
As for the Supreme Court, one shouldn’t be too surprised. Go back and study its rulings throughout its history. From declaring blacks can’t sue in court or become citizens to granting the presidents the authority to put innocent people in concentration camps, most court rulings have undermined our civil liberties and granted power to the government we did not delegate to them through the Constitution.
If the government is to be given more authority or power, the amendment process is the only proper way to do it – but even from an libertarian anarchist point of view, this still doesn’t justify it. Consent must be obtained from an individual, not from a voting majority. Prohibition was constitutionally enacted as an amendment, but it was still morally and legally unjustified.
I’ve come to find that the purpose of the legal system, laws, and lawyers is to bring ambiguity with there is clarity. Only a person with a profoundly confused sense of freedom, liberty and authority can interpret the Fifth Amendment as allowing law enforcement to seize property before you have even been charged with committing a crime – the mere suspicion is now all that is required. Grand juries, I must also point out, are not the same as court proceedings. Only the prosecution is present. The defendants are not allowed to defend themselves in any way.
This court ruling is particularly insidious because of how it deprives people not only of their civil liberties, but their ability to defend themselves in a court of law. As Damon Root at Reason magazine explains:
In the wake of the grand jury indictments, the federal government moved to freeze the Kaleys’ assets, including their home and a $500,000 certificate of deposit the couple had recently purchased in order to cover the anticipated legal expenses arising from their trial. Put differently, the government has eliminated their ability to pay their lawyer.
Is it paranoid to ask if this will become a standard legal tactic by law enforcement in the future: A person is accused of a crime and their financial assets are frozen, making it impossible for them to hire a lawyer. Their choices at that point are few, making a plea bargain the most viable option.
This is another obvious fatal flaw found in government systems, where the courts issue opinions that amount to secular ex cathedra pronouncements, and then are considered law of the land by legal experts and taught as sacred in schools and universities. In a libertarian society, courts would be private and all parties would have to agree to using the court. This case involved the possible theft and sale of medical supplies. Therefore, the victim of the theft would press charges. A private lawyer acting on behalf of the victim would not have the ability or authority to seize the defendant’s asserts before they had been found guilty.
This ruling shows what many in the legal system actually believe: Government has total power over us, and we have no rights, just privileges. To them, this was merely a privilege being taken away.