Fourth Amendment

Civil Forfeiture: Domestic Official Piracy


Many of the famous English pirates started out as privateers raiding French and Spanish commercial vessels.  Privateers were people authorized, via ‘Letters of Marque’ issued by a government official, to harass, attack and loot merchant agents of that government’s foreign opponents.  Privateers were essentially officially licensed pirates:  legal thieves.  It was an accepted way of unofficially extending military projection without direct cost to the government coffers.  Privateering was a way of executing a loose blockade or embargo against external enemies. 


The US Constitution, in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11 specifically allows Congress to issue ‘Letters of Marque and Reprisal’.  

The exact words are: “The Congress shall have Power To… declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water. 

Simultaneously, the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

And the Fourteenth Amendment states, in part:  nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;


Common sense should lead one to understand and believe that Letters of Marque and Rules of Captures authorized by the Constitution are intended for use against foreign enemies since it is included in the same clause that gives Congress the power to declare War. 

The authors and signers of the Constitution, by deliberately including the Fourth Amendment, clearly intended that American citizens, after being subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures under their British rulers, be explicitly protected from such.  Again, I will point to the words “shall not be violated” which to any rational person means it is forbidden by this document to make any law, rule, code, regulation or other provision for unreasonable search and seizure.

These two components of the American Constitution cannot be taken independently or considered contradictory.  They are explicit and exclusive to two separate issues and conditions.  That same common sense used above should lead one to understand that the nation’s government is never at war with its own citizens… in theory.


Apparently, someone along the way decided the sanctioning of privateering does indeed apply to domestic ‘law enforcement’ at every level against the very American citizens the Constitution was written to protect.

The domestic Letters of Marque are commonly referred to as ‘asset forfeiture’ or ‘civil seizure.’  It’s application often involves a police officer discovering a sum of cash and seizing it on the assumption that the cash is either on its way to be used in a crime or the ‘ill-gotten gains’ of some crime.

There used to be a principle of the law that a suspect was innocent until proven guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt.  Now the assumption seems to be the exact opposite – especially when it comes to private property.  And it is often nearly impossible to prove a negative.  How indeed can an innocent citizen PROVE his assets were not acquired illegally or on their way to commit a crime in the future?

Let’s say you want to buy a used car from someone at the other end of the state.  You know the seller will neither take a check (who trusts checks from strangers these days?) nor accept a credit card. You will definitely not use PayPal or a bank wire to transfer money before you even see the car, so you carry $5,000 with you for the purchase.  You get stopped at a random checkpoint or because you neglected to fix your broken taillight and the policeman asks if you are carrying a large sum of money (as if that is any of the policeman’s business related to the taillight).  You answer honestly that, yes, you have $5,000 that you are nervous about carrying and are going to use it to buy a car over in Podunk.  The kindly helpful officer tells you to hand it over because he believes you are lying and intend to purchase a drug stash, pay a stranger to kill your boss or have it after just selling a drug stash.  How can you prove the $5,000 you were carrying to buy a car was not actually any of those?  It will cost you more in money, time and energy than the $5,000 to retrieve it.  You turn around and head for home cashless and car-less… and embittered, most likely.

The seizure was not reasonable, not based on a warrant supported by oath nor probable cause.  It was totally, absolutely unconstitutional… and outrageous… and ridiculous… and simply an act of piracy.

Of course, the police department in the example above got to keep most, if not all, of the seizure.  So the privateers will staunchly defend these laws.

Do you think the above scenario is too far fetched to ever occur?  Read this and this.


The rationale for these laws was to prohibit criminals from continuing to do business as usual, from hiding their ill-gotten assets or even from defending themselves.  But what has happened to Sir William Blackstone’s formulation: "It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer"?  I guess Blackstone was just naïve and needs to be forgotten – the sooner the better?


In one notorious case, a local ‘mom-and-pop’ hotel was seized after the police determined that several tenants had sold drugs in their rooms over several years.  The owner even reported the crimes to the police and tried to work with them to deter the drug trade and prevent his hotel from becoming disreputable.  The authorities saw the chance to seize a million dollar property.  Thankfully, the case ended in 2013 with the forfeiture being overturned.  I would conjecture that every hotel, motel, inn and bed-and-breakfast in the country has had some crime committed in at least one of their rooms.  Should they all be seized?  Shall we shut down the entire hotel industry to prevent crime?

Also, the federal government is intent on knowing everything about everybody and maintaining absolute control of financial transactions as recently displayed here using banking ‘know your customer’ laws and using civil forfeiture to enforce this control.  And here is yet another case of outrageous seizure.  You could spend several days reading about case after case of this obscene piracy against the American people.

Here is an excellent article explaining some of the details and benefits of asset forfeiture.  The article does concede, however, that State level forfeiture is in need of much revision.  The ‘administrative’ forfeiture the author explains seems to be the variety that is most abused.  If an innocent person has assets seized, and the legal time, energy and money cost of reclaiming the asset is more than the asset is worth, the case becomes the uncontested administrative forfeiture.  Because it is uncontested, the author appears to believe the guilt involving the asset is thus established by default.  What happened to 'innocent until proven guilty'?


This brings us back to the phrases in the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.  Remember those words ‘unreasonable searches and seizures’, ‘probable cause’, and ‘without due process of law’.  It is perfectly understandable to seize an asset as evidence in a crime to protect it from destruction. However, in our little highway cash seizure scenario above – and the myriad other real-life examples(!), no probable cause was established, no warrant was issued AND no arrest was made!  In no way can anyone honestly claim due process was followed.  Here is a John Stossel video clip and another article about ‘civil asset seizure’.


Welcome to civil forfeiture, ‘pre-crime’ and predatory police-state government piracy.  Perhaps your Congressional representation should know how astonishingly evil and unconstitutional this practice is.

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