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Date: Sat, 19 Jun 1999 01:20:17 -0700
Subject: URGENT ACTION ITEM - Asset Forfeiture Vote
To: email@example.com (Libertarian Party announcements list)
U.S. House will vote Wednesday on bill to reform asset-forfeiture laws
*** Immediate action required! Telephone your House representative immediately.
The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on Wednesday, June 23, on a bill that would dramatically reform civil asset-forfeiture laws, which allow the government to confiscate the property of innocent Americans without even charging them with a crime. We are asking everyone who receives this message to *immediately* contact your House representative and ask him or her to vote YES on HR 1658, The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 1999, sponsored by Rep. Henry Hyde, R-IL.
Congress began enacting asset forfeiture laws in 1970 to permit the government to seize the property of the Mafia and major drug smugglers without having to convict them in court. Such laws have spread like wildfire since then -- currently there are over 200 on the federal books. Last year, the Justice Department confiscated 42,454 cars, boats, houses, and other assets worth over $604 million, according to its own admission.
Police at all levels routinely use these laws to confiscate the possessions of thousands of innocent Americans without producing a search warrant, arresting them, or charging them with a crime. Shockingly, Americans who want their property back have to go to court to "prove" they haven't committed a crime.
These prove-you're-not-a-criminal laws have another outrageous aspect as well: In order to have the "right" to contest the seizure in court, victims first have to post a cash bond and hire a lawyer -- even though in some cases the government has already seized their money to begin with.
Thanks to asset forfeiture laws passed by Republicans and Democrats, the cops have become *worse* than the robbers. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, bank robbers stole assets worth a total of $28 million in 1994. But during the same year, federal prosecutors confiscated $2.1 *billion* in cars, boats, homes, and other property -- according to asset forfeiture expert James Bovard. That means that government "criminals" confiscated 75 times as much property as private criminals!
That's why it's so important to demand that Congress pass HR 1658 -- we must seize this opportunity to stop the government from seizing our property.
The Libertarian Party Platform calls for *repealing* asset forfeiture laws rather than reforming them. But until we elect enough Libertarians to Congress to achieve that, we will support any measure that would weaken the government's power to seize your property -- and HR 1658 would do that.
Currently Rep. Hyde's bill has 59 co-sponsors, including U.S. Rep. Paul, R-TX, the Libertarian's Party's former presidential candidate. This legislation is supported by a wide range of civil liberties groups, including the National Rifle Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Tax Reform, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Forfeiture Endangers American Rights, and the American Bar Association.
HR 1658 would dramatically reform current law by:
* Requiring the government to prove by "clear and convincing evidence" that property is subject to forfeiture. (Current law requires only a "preponderance of evidence" standard.)
* Eliminating the requirement that a property owner file a 10 percent bond to challenge a seizure.
* Providing for an "innocent owner" defense, so that people who were unaware that their property was being used unlawfully could have it returned. * Requiring the government to notify in writing anyone whose property has been seized, and forcing the government to return the property if such notice is not given.
* Allowing property owners to sue the government for destruction of seized property while in its possession.
* Awarding interest payments to property owners who successfully get their property back.
WHAT TO DO:
Contact your U.S. House representative today by calling the Congressional switchboard at 202-225-3121 or 202-224-3121. Then ask to speak to the office of your Representative.
You can ask for the e-mail address of a particular Congressman once you are connected to that office, or look up their address at http://house.gov However, we recommend that you call because telephone calls will be answered and counted before the vote on Wednesday -- but there's no guarantee that e-mails will be tallied before then.
WHAT TO SAY:
(1) Identify yourself and let them know you are a voter in their district.
(2) Ask them to vote YES on HR 1658, sponsored by Rep. Henry Hyde, when it comes to a vote on Wednesday. (This is the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 1999.)
(3) Ask them to vote AGAINST any weakening amendments.
Is there anything else you can do? Yes! Forward this e-mail to a friend, and ask them to call their representative, too. With your help we can force Congress to start respecting your rights by reforming asset forfeiture laws.
The Libertarian Party
2600 Virginia Ave. NW, Suite 100
Washington DC 20037