- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2000

The latest polls show Rudy Giuliani in a dead heat with his senatorial opponent, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton his recent cancer prognosis notwithstanding. Mrs. Clinton may not be the Joan of Arc of civil liberties but it could very well be that she is benefiting from public weariness with some of the more ill-advised tactics of Mr. Giuliani. While Mr. Giuliani has done wonders for the crime rate in New York, sometimes it seems that ordinary citizens are getting caught in the excitement rather than the criminals.
It seems Mr. Giuliani is expanding the already questionable use of civil asset-forfeiture laws to include nonalcohol-related traffic offenses. Now, not only suspected drunk drivers, but those who speed or otherwise drive "recklessly" are in the gun sights. Mr. Giuliani has been criticized for employing asset seizure/forfeiture laws, originally intended to put the arm on drug dealers and organized crime, to pursue ordinary citizens who, at most, have committed misdemeanor offenses. The kicker is that city police have been seizing cars at the point of arrest not conviction and even if the vehicle's owner is subsequently found not guilty or the charges are dropped, it is up to him to embark upon a labyrinthine process through the civil courts to recover his car or truck. This can takes weeks, even months and plaintiffs are still not assured of recovering their vehicle, as the absence of a conviction (that is, legal innocence) is not deemed a sufficient reason to return it automatically.
This over-the-top "get tough" program is now to be applied to such offenses as driving at more than twice the posted speed limit and other offenses deemed "reckless" or "hazardous" by New York. One problem with this aside from the obvious constitutional issue of depriving any person of a piece of property prior to any conviction without due process of law is that the traffic offenses subsumed under this category are overbilled and inflated. "Hazardous" driving can include such things as talking on a cell phone, fishing around for something in the glove box and other actions that, while not to be encouraged or dismissed, are at the same time not necessarily sociopathic, either.
In New York, the standard is a little higher but not much. Those who commit oops are charged with three "hazardous driving" violations at the same time, or who are charged with driving at more than twice the posted speed limit, are to be subject to the asset-forfeiture proceedings.
While no one endorses dangerous or inattentive driving, surely confiscating a vehicle for what is, let's be perfectly clear, at worst a misdemeanor traffic offense involving no injury, property damage or criminal intent is, to say the least, a tad excessive. One could physically assault someone, shoplift, snatch a purse, break into a car and probably suffer less in terms of real-world consequences than the poor middle-class slob who loses his $35,000 sport utility vehicle.
Excessive? Arbitrary? Capricious? Not to Mr. Giuliani. "If you get arrested for reckless driving to the point where we can charge you with a misdemeanor," says Mr. Giuliani, "we're going to take your automobile from you. And we're going to take your automobile from you because we're entitled to it …"
Note the language. According to Mr. Giuliani, the City of New York is "entitled" to your vehicle a piece of property that can be worth $30,000-$60,000 or more, depending upon what you drive if you commit a misdemeanor traffic offense. Mr. Giuliani is wrecking private-property rights, and he may pay for it at the polls.

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