Seized with injustice

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Did you ever think you'd see the ineffable right-wing congressman from Georgia, Bob Barr, shake hands with solid lefty lawmaker Barney Frank of Massachusetts? Or see hidebound Republican Henry Hyde lock arms with hard-core Democrat John Conyers?

Well, it has happened, and it's a good thing it did. All four odd bedfellows, members of the House Judiciary Committee, teamed up to pass a bill stopping the FBI, ATF, DEA, state, local and other police agents from stomping on our Fourth Amendment right of protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. At issue is a drug law that allows these assorted police forces to grab your private property -- your house, your business, your car, your bank account, your entire Englebert Humperdink record collection and anything else -- if they suspect that these items might have been involved in some sort of criminal activity. If they have hearsay evidence that a drug deal went down in your car or that there's an unusual amount of money in your account, they can seize them, sell the property and keep the money. And they do -- the Justice Department cashed in on half-a-billion dollars' worth of property seized last year, disbursing the funds to police agents who did the grabbing.

All that the agents need is "probable cause," which includes finger-pointing by "confidential informants." Even if you're innocent (and 80 percent of these seizures result in no criminal charge against the person), they get to keep your stuff. The only way you can get it back is to put up a bond worth 10 percent of what they took, hire a lawyer, then prove your innocence in court.

The House has overwhelmingly voted to stop these outrageous seizures, and now it goes to the Senate. Sadly, the Clinton administration supports letting the agents of the police state continue grabbing innocent people's property. To learn more, call the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers at (202) 872-8600.

Jim Hightower is an author, radio commentator, public speaker and political sparkplug from Austin, Texas. For more populist commentary, visit his website.

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