The Institute for Justice’s new report, Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture, details a “big and growing problem” that “threatens basic rights to property and due process.”
Through both criminal and civil forfeiture laws, governments can seize property used in — or the proceeds of — a crime. Criminal forfeiture requires that a person be charged and convicted of a crime to transfer title to government. Civil forfeiture, on the other hand, allows governments to take people’s stuff without being convicted — or even charged — with a crime.
No surprise that 87 percent of asset forfeiture is now civil, only 13 percent criminal. And governments are grabbing more and more. The federal financial take has grown ten-fold since 2001.
“Every year,” IJ’s researchers document, “police and prosecutors across the United States take hundreds of millions of dollars in cash, cars, homes and other property — regardless of the owners’ guilt or innocence.” Then, the innocent victim must sue the government to have his or her stuff returned.
Incentive to steal? “In most places, cash and property taken boost the budgets of the very police agencies and prosecutor’s offices that took it,” an accompanying IJ video explains.
IJ’s report concludes that, “Short of ending civil forfeiture altogether, at least five reforms can increase protections for property owners and improve transparency.” Those five reforms are improvements, sure, but let’s end civil forfeiture completely.
It’s the principle!
Two principles, actually.
Civil forfeiture laws pretend law enforcement is taking action against our property, and that our property has no rights. But what about our property rights!
We’re innocent until proven guilty, too . . . and so is our stuff.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.