If you have ever been to or traveled through Arnolds Park, Iowa, chances are you have seen or at least heard of Mrs. Lady’s Mexican Food. Known for it’s large portions and low prices, this family-owned, cash-only restaurant has become a staple for those living in Dickinson County.
Carole Hinders has made an honest living owning and operating Mrs. Lady’s for the last 38 years. But in August of 2013, everything she saved–roughly $33,000–was seized by the Internal Revenue Service. Hinders has not been charged for tax evasion, or money laundering–in fact, one year later, she still has not been charged for any crime at all. The IRS claims her bank account was seized solely because she was depositing less than $10,000 at a time. Last time I checked, making small cash deposits into a personal checking account is not a crime.
According to the New York Times, the IRS seized Hinders’ honest living by enforcing an “increasingly controversial” law known as civil asset forfeiture. This law allows property to be seized if it is suspected of being connected to criminal activity. The problem is, law enforcement is not required to explain what the criminal activity is, much less prove that the person is guilty of such activity.
Under current law, law enforcement agencies may take property suspected of involvement in crime without ever charging, let alone convicting, the property owner. In addition, state agencies routinely use federal asset forfeiture laws; ignoring state regulations to confiscate and receive financial proceeds from forfeited property.
The government should never be able to take property from innocent Americans. That is a blatant violation of our Fifth Amendment rights. Clark Neily of the Institute for Justice put it best: “A dismaying combination of perverse incentives, unfair laws, and lack of oversight makes civil forfeiture one of the most dangerous and blatantly unconstitutional policies America has ever seen.”
When I took office, I swore to uphold the Constitution and protect our Bill of Rights. This is why I have introduced the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act, which would protect the rights of citizens and restore the Fifth Amendment’s role in seizing property without due process of law.
The FAIR Act would change federal law and protect the rights of property owners by requiring that the government prove its case with clear and convincing evidence before forfeiting seized property–so that honest, hard-working Americans like Carole Hinders are not left broke or trapped with debt.
Under the FAIR Act, state law enforcement agencies will have to abide by state law when forfeiting seized property. Finally, the legislation would remove the profit incentive for forfeiture by redirecting forfeitures assets from the Attorney General’s Asset Forfeiture Fund to the Treasury’s General Fund.
The federal government has made it far too easy for government agencies to take and profit from the property of those who have not been convicted of a crime. The FAIR Act will ensure that government agencies no longer profit from taking the property of U.S. citizens without due process, while maintaining the ability of courts to order the surrender of proceeds of crime.
I will continue to do all I can to protect the rights of Americans and ensure that their Fifth Amendment rights are no longer infringed upon.