Before Taking Our Guns, They’ll Take Everything Else

February 21, 2019

By David Flemming

Last month, Vermonters were shocked to hear about police confiscating guns from an innocent man because a boy was trying to steal the man’s guns to target a school. This confiscation was made easier with state legislation passed last year. Fortunately for the owner, the guns were returned to him. The gun owner may not have been so lucky if the state had decided to seize his guns under a different statute.

“Civil asset forfeiture” occurs when police suspect an individual of wrongdoing, and decide to take property used in the alleged crime (such as a vehicle, home, guns or cash). Since confiscating goods is easier than securing a criminal conviction, police officers have been known to offer freedom in exchange for a person’s property related to the “crime.” Law enforcement can then sell the property and pocket a portion of the proceeds, which varies by state. In the strict legal sense, the property is guilty until proven innocent. Getting it back in a court of law can often prove more costly than the property itself, leading many to give up on its safe return.

Civil asset forfeiture first came into vogue during 1920’s Prohibition with the seizure of alcohol. It was revitalized during the 1980’s as a way to battle drug dealers. Over the past two decades however, law enforcement has become increasingly reliant and aggressive toward ordinary citizens in using asset forfeiture to fund its operations.

For 14 years from 2000 to 2014, the CATO Institute ranked Vermont around #10 among the 50 states for asset protection, but we’ve recently dropped to #15.

In 2015, Vermont passed a law requiring a conviction in criminal court prior before property could be confiscated in civil court. Unfortunately, this step forward was accompanied by a move to allow law enforcement agencies to keep 45% of forfeiture proceeds, whereas before the entire amount went in the state treasury. Thus, Vermont’s police officers were given an incentive to take property from their neighbors.

Vermont and 39 other states require the owner of the property to prove their property’s innocence, which is no easy task. In 2012, a grandmother lost her home after her son used it to sell marijuana out of, unbeknownst to her.

Vermont is a little better in regards to “how convincing” the government’s evidence must be to a judge or jury. Vermont courts require the government to use evidence that points toward guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” or in a “clear and convincing” manner, depending on the property seized. This is a better presumption of innocence than the “preponderance of evidence” standard that most states use, but it is still a worse standard than the most protective states.

While we can thankful about the recent Supreme Court win against broad forfeiture, only time will tell if Vermonters’ property will be safer from the government’s prying hands. In the meantime, keeping all of your property in Bitcoin is the safest way to protect it.

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Thaddeus Cline February 23, 2019 at 7:12 am

Fear mongering gets you know where . A gun that kills is something that should and is held till it can be established that it won’t be used in an unlawful act . As would have been very likly a nut on the fringe of the right had more then 10 rounds to pump in a person of color and or the cops who would protect them.
Crime has been proven to go down when people know the will lose there property not up.
What you want to hear say is owning a gun will stop crime . But if you want to commit a crime with it , it should not be taken away from you . Witch is it that you want ?
I suggest your pushing that black hawk airplanes will take your first born child and turn them into a transvestit Muslim Islamist communist pedafile . Smarter people the majority of America knows better and dose not fall for out right nutty conspiracy story’s .
In short you pretend to be a patriot, but in fact work to fool gullible people who think they are . Shame on you

Reply

Doug Richmond February 23, 2019 at 1:53 pm

Thad? What were you reading?

Nothing here against taking the weapon from an Owner who commits a gun crime.

Reply

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The Ethan Allen Institute is Vermont’s free-market public policy research and education organization. Founded in 1993, we are one of fifty-plus similar but independent state-level, public policy organizations around the country which exchange ideas and information through the State Policy Network.
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