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if “Defund the Police” makes you reach for your pistol, Cops are now bigger crooks than criminals

3 min read


Civil asset forfeiture is manifestly unfair, loaded with perverse incentives, based on a legal fallacy and opposed by an overwhelming majority of the public (once they know what it actually is). It’s also typically carried out with little transparency or oversight, and it’s a policy that, when we do have data, has been shown to be falling far short of the justifications for its existence.…

Civil forfeiture laws pose some of the greatest threats to property rights in the nation today, too often making it easy and lucrative for law enforcement to take and keep property—regardless of the owner’s guilt or innocence. This updated and expanded second edition of Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture makes the case for reform, grading the civil forfeiture laws of each state and the federal government, documenting remarkable growth in forfeiture activity across the country, and highlighting a worrisome lack of transparency surrounding forfeiture activity and expenditures from forfeiture funds.…

When you tell people who know little of our criminal justice system about civil asset forfeiture, they often don’t believe you. And it isn’t difficult to see why. It’s a practice so contrary to a basic sense of justice and fairness that you want to believe someone is pulling your leg, or at least exaggerating.

No exaggeration is necessary. Civil asset forfeiture is based on the premise that a piece of property can be guilty of a crime. Under the theory, if the police suspect that cash, a car, a house or even a business was obtained through proceeds of a crime (usually a drug crime), or was in any way connected to the commission of a crime, they can seize said property. The burden then falls on the property’s owner to prove that they either acquired it legally, weren’t using it in the commission of a crime, or that someone else used it illegally without the owner’s knowledge (though not all states offer the “innocent owner” defense).
In many instances, not only is the owner required to prove a negative, but the process also can be prohibitively expensive. In most cases, the owner is never charged with a crime, much less convicted, yet the police agency gets to keep some or all of any cash seized, and some or all of whatever a house, car or other item earns at auction. In some states, the prosecutor’s office gets a portion, too. In others, civil forfeiture cases are contracted to private law firms, which get to keep a cut of whatever they win in court.


Numerous media outlets, including The Post, have documented countless cases in which police have targeted innocent property owners or, at the very least, people for whom there was little to no evidence of any criminal activity. Defenders of civil forfeiture often point to the low percentage of property owners who fight seizures in court, suggesting that the failure to fight is indicative of guilt. But the cost of hiring an attorney to recover $1,500 can quickly exceed $1,500. Few targets of forfeiture have the luxury of spending more on the legal fight to return their property than the property was actually worth — just to prove a point. If the item seized was a car, a low-income person may have no cash at all to pay an attorney, which means that even if successful in court, the cost of victory could well require them to sell the car they’d just won back. It isn’t difficult to see why even an innocent person would conclude that it’s just not worth the fight.…

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