“The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.”
Justice is a bedrock of American society. The concepts of equality before the law, the presumption of innocence, right of due process, etc., all speak of the Founders’ belief in God’s divine justice that was interwoven with the fabric of the American founding.
This makes it all the more concerning that the Institute of Justice (IJ) has recently been forced to file a lawsuit on behalf of car owners in Detroit who have had their vehicles seized and “ransomed” for $1,000 or more by the police force without a crime ever being charged to the owner. This practice, known as “civil forfeiture,” is particularly egregious since it has been committed by police officers whose sworn duty is to uphold the law. According to the IJ, “Anyone’s vehicle can be seized based on one police officer’s suspicion that it was, in some way, connected to a crime. Even being near an alleged crime is enough…The vehicle owner does not have to be under suspicion, even when he or she could have done nothing to prevent the crime from happening.”
The practice was initially intended to deprive drug buyers and dealers of property and cash if the police could connect the property with a crime. Unfortunately, the temptation to abuse the legal loophole is strong and profitable. Single states have made as much as $46 million on civil asset forfeiture in one year. The uses of these funds are also poorly regulated, evidenced by a District Attorney in Texas, who was outed in 2008 for using civil asset forfeiture proceeds to purchase a margarita machine and liquor for a party.
To make things worse, a Washington Post investigation in 2014 yielded the essential admission by law enforcement that, during lean economic times, civil asset forfeiture is an attractive means of raising revenue. In the Ten Commandments, found in Deuteronomy 5, God commands “you shall not steal,” and yet that is exactly what these particular law enforcement officers have done under the guise of preventing crime!
Fortunately, Timbs v. Indiana was heard by the Supreme Court in 2019. This case laid the foundation for invalidating civil asset forfeiture when the Court ruled that the clause against excessive fines under the Eighth Amendment needed to be applied to the use of civil forfeiture by states. Nonetheless, the definition of an “excessive fine” has yet to be fully clarified and the practice of civil forfeiture itself was not declared unconstitutional.
We must be wary to violate the basic property rights due to all human beings under God’s natural law. This natural law was given by “Nature’s God” and recognized back in 1776 at the outset of the American Revolution. Upon its firm foundation stands the Declaration of Independence and the American project of liberty and justice for all. God Himself abhors stealing and this practice of legalized theft ought to be recognized for being exactly that. As Christians and Americans, this is intolerable.