Liberty vs. Leviathan

Chronicling Liberty's battle against Leviathan

Extortion with a badge

I’m convinced more than ever that we live in a lawless land.  The only law being that of the whims and power of those in positions of authority.

In 1850 Frédéric Bastiat wrote The Law to warn of the detrimental effects of perverting the law and using it to plunder your neighbor, that is use the law to do to your neighbor what you yourself could not legitimately do.  Although written in the context of 19th century French socialism it still applies today.  Here’s a bit of what Bastiat had to say:

It is impossible to introduce into society a greater change and a greater evil than this: the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder.

What are the consequences of such a perversion? It would require volumes to describe them all. Thus we must content ourselves with pointing out the most striking.

In the first place, it erases from everyone’s conscience the distinction between justice and injustice.

No society can exist unless the laws are respected to a certain degree. The safest way to make laws respected is to make them respectable. When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law. These two evils are of equal consequence, and it would be difficult for a person to choose between them.

The nature of law is to maintain justice. This is so much the case that, in the minds of the people, law and justice are one and the same thing. There is in all of us a strong disposition to believe that anything lawful is also legitimate. This belief is so widespread that many persons have erroneously held that things are “just” because law makes them so. Thus, in order to make plunder appear just and sacred to many consciences, it is only necessary for the law to decree and sanction it.

I’m convinced of another thing too.  Our acceptance of  this idea of plunder has opened the way for the law to be used, not only against our neighbor to redistribute his wealth, but also against our neighbor and ourselves to fund the state in ever more unjust and evil ways.

This past week the Detroit News ran a three part series on the increase use of asset forfeiture laws by local jurisdictions (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).  Apparently, these laws are becoming an effective way to replace lost tax revenue in a down economy.  Despicable on many levels, one of the worst is that officials are preying on the very people they claim to serve and protect.

The way Krista Vaughn sees it, Wayne County fined her $1,400 even though police and prosecutors admit she broke no laws.

Vaughn, who has no criminal record, was required to pay for the return of her car, which was seized by police after they mistook Vaughn’s co-worker for a prostitute. Even though prosecutors later dropped the case, Vaughn still had to pay.

Vaughn, who works in an American Red Cross supply warehouse, dropped off her co-worker, Amanda Odom, at a Detroit bank the afternoon of Feb. 11, 2004. Both women were still wearing their Red Cross badges.

Officers from the Wayne County Sheriff’s Morality Unit accused Odom of solicitation after they saw her make eye contact with passing motorists while waiting for Vaughn to pick her up from the bank. On the strength of that observation, officers ticketed Odom and seized Vaughn’s 2002 Chrysler Sebring.

“We obviously weren’t doing anything wrong, but the cops wouldn’t listen,” Vaughn said.

The charges against Odom were eventually dropped, but Vaughn still was out $900, the usual fee prosecutors require to return seized vehicles. She also had to pay another $500 in towing and storage fees, because it was several days before she could raise the money to get her car back — plus another $400 to repair an oil pan she said was damaged when her car was towed.

In the report some officials spoke against the practice.  Now a defense attorney, former Macomb County Prosecutor Carl Marlinga said, “Forfeiture laws are being abused by police and prosecutors who see only dollar signs.  It’s a money grab, pure and simple; a sneaky way of getting a penalty on something prosecutors can’t prove. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.”   Fraser Public Safety Director George Rouhib likened it to “legalized extortion.”

Other officials were unrepentant:

“We’re trying to fight crime,” said Police Chief Mike Pachla of Roseville, where the money raised from forfeitures jumped more than tenfold, from $33,890 to $393,014.  “We would be just as aggressive even if there wasn’t any money involved.”

And another:

When Romulus saw a 118 percent jump in forfeiture revenues from 2003-07, the increase was not the result of more criminal activity, Chief Michael St. Andre said.  “It’s because our forfeiture efforts have ramped up in the past few years,” he said.

This is what happens when you criminalize immoral behavior and legalize criminal behavior.  Lord, have mercy!

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3 Responses

  1. Greg says:

    Yes, may the Lord have mercy on us all. We have embraced the earthly king and now will suffer the consequences.

  2. Rowman says:

    And lest anyone think I was being flippant, I wasn’t. The “Lord have mercy” is from the Penitential Rite of the Mass where we acknowledge our sins and ask for mercy.

  3. And meanwhile in Minnesota a slim 4-3 majority of the State Supreme Court said today that an innocent spouse forefeits the jointly owned family car when the other spouse screws up: http://wp.me/pAFjr-2N

    These laws should either be repealed, or severely reformed. They are an invitation to corruption.

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