Think Freely Media presents Common Sense with Paul Jacob

Think “corporate personhood” is bad? Well, there’s a far stranger notion in American law: civil forfeiture. That’s where corporeal property is said to have personhood, and thus can be sued — rather than its owner. This goofy doctrine allows governments — state and local, as well as, of course, federal — to take property from people without establishing that the owner had done anything wrong by strict standards of evidence and rules of culpability.

The property is just nabbed, really.

It’s a horrible atavism, an old idea from the bad old days before a rule of law was established. And it encourages governments to be kleptocratic. Whole law enforcement agencies fund their luxuries and perks by this method.

A typical example? “In 2003 a Nebraska state trooper stopped Emiliano Gonzolez for speeding on Interstate 80,” writes Jacob Sullum at Reason, “and found $124,700 inside a cooler on the back seat of the rented Ford Taurus he was driving. Gonzolez said the money was intended to buy a refrigerated truck for a produce business, but the cops figured all that cash must have something to do with illegal drugs.” So the government took the money.

This sort of takings — confiscation — helps drive the drug war, of course.

But it often takes from the innocent as well as the criminal.

Since “suing the property” conforms to neither normal civil nor criminal law, it’s all rigged in the government’s favor. It’s scandalous that courts have ruled it constitutional. Something has to be done to curb its use in America.

Rand Paul wants to reform civil forfeiture. Seems like an awfully small step. How much better to abolish it!

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

By: Redactor


  1. Lynn Atherton Bloxham says:

    Great article. FEAR is a good organization that tries to educate people as to the horrors of Asset Forfeiture. Two points to add.
    1. Asset Forfeiture has weaseled its way back into bad law as have Bills of Attainder. 2. Those who think the Republican or Democrats can help with the egregious legal problems we have are day dreaming. Yes Rand Paul sometimes sounds like a libertarian, but even the best people in either party are always timid about/strike that…unwilling to call for abolishing those anti individual carryovers.
    A reason for working through the LP is the educational effort it makes to take a principled and consistent stand. Not perfect and still a futile political stand, but there are now many more groups who stand on principle.

  2. Sheldon says:

    What a weak attack on civil forfeiture. Characterizing it as “goofy” minimizes the evil concept itself, the guilt of the politicians who passed the law and of the perpetrators. It is a sinister doctrine contrary to logic, the Constitution and common law.

    And saying that “. . . the cops figured all that cash must have something to do with illegal drugs” sounds like an effort to exonerate their behavior as an innocent mistake. There was no reason to believe that; there’s no law against holding large amounts of cash and nothing in the behavior of Gonzalez or in what was found in the truck indicated that drugs were involved. The cops seized the money because a large portion of it was going directly into their pockets and for no other reason. You know it and any objective person knows it. Please, while condemning the law itself, don’t try to exonerate corrupt politicians and “law-enforcers.”

  3. Brian Wright says:

    Great column, Pablo. Abolish would be the correct decision. [Here in Novi, our mayor, formerly a drug cop, made his name–and some would say a comfortable living–using civil forfeiture.] Which also points out something else to abolish: the drug laws.

  4. Don Tennison says:

    This happen far more often than most people realize

  5. Free Man (NOT) says:

    This is nothing less than grand theft under color of law.

  6. F N Scott says:

    Not exactly the same, but similar to Arkansas Code 13-4-410, which allows sheriffs to keep found objects.

  7. […] has been known for some time; I’ve written about it before. But now the Washington Post has finally taken notice … and unearthed a new element to the […]

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