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Asset Forfeiture: The Cops Just Take Your Money

Posted on August 6, 2013

The basic principle behind asset forfeiture is appealing. It enables authorities to confiscate cash or property obtained through illicit means, and, in many states, funnel the proceeds directly into the fight against crime. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, cops drive a Cadillac Escalade stenciled with the words “This Used To Be a Drug Dealer’s Car, Now It’s Ours!” In Monroe, North Carolina, police recently proposed using forty-four thousand dollars in confiscated drug money to buy a surveillance drone, which might be deployed to catch fleeing suspects, conduct rescue missions, and, perhaps, seize more drug money. Hundreds of state and federal laws authorize forfeiture for cockfighting, drag racing, basement gambling, endangered-fish poaching, securities fraud, and countless other misdeeds.

In general, you needn’t be found guilty to have your assets claimed by law enforcement; in some states, suspicion on a par with “probable cause” is sufficient. Nor must you be charged with a crime, or even be accused of one. Unlike criminal forfeiture, which requires that a person be convicted of an offense before his or her property is confiscated, civil forfeiture amounts to a lawsuit filed directly against a possession, regardless of its owner’s guilt or innocence.

One result is the rise of improbable case names such as United States v. One Pearl Necklace and United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins. (Jennifer Boatright and Ron Henderson’s forfeiture was slugged State of Texas v. $6,037.) “The protections our Constitution usually affords are out the window,” Louis Rulli, a clinical law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading forfeiture expert, observes. A piece of property does not share the rights of a person. There’s no right to an attorney and, in most states, no presumption of innocence. Owners who wish to contest often find that the cost of hiring a lawyer far exceeds the value of their seized goods. Washington, D.C., charges up to twenty-five hundred dollars simply for the right to challenge a police seizure in court, which can take months or even years to resolve.

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23 thoughts on “Asset Forfeiture: The Cops Just Take Your Money

  1. Mick and the boys sang “…every cop is a criminal…” over 40 years ago. How right they were!

  2. Davnkatz says:

    I think this article verges on typical liberalism of "anything cops do is evil". Of course, ANY activity – by cops or anyone else – can be detoured for evil purposes. On the other hand, this confiscation of property and/or money obtained by criminal means (even if only part was obtained that way sends a strong message to criminals. "But", you argue, "innocent family members will suffer." HA! What family member – other than very young children – don't KNOW how their stuff is obtained? Even very young children often participate in the activity. As a public school teacher, I once was offered a chance to buy some dope by a 9 yr old whose parents were "suspected" of being dealers. I immediately reported it, BUT I WAS THE ONE TREATED AS THE WRONG DOER. Big reason I left the public school teaching profession.

  3. Davnkatz, if you're not yet aware of how this "power" is being abuse constantly all over the country, then you haven't been paying attention.

  4. maybe you should read the article again, only slower

  5. Ignatius says:

    I hate to point it out, but you're not very bright. As he said, read it again, only slower. Sound it out.

  6. Like every government program that starts with a relatively benign pushing of the envelope with the noblest of intentions, asset forfeiture was an open invitation to abuse by those criminal elements who have found that operating a criminal enterprise from within government is almost as profitable and far less risky than running one in the private sector.

  7. I may be wrong, but I personally believe that countering asset forfeitures with criminal charges and very public law suits on the police departments and on each and every individual officer and public official involved might prove a stern remedy for the unconstitutional seizure of private property. The argument that property has no rights is a bogus BS excuse to cover law enforcement criminality. The fact is that depriving someone of their lawful property is a direct and full willful violation of that person's constitutional rights

  8. foreiture of goods and money AFTER a criminal conviction, IF the goods/money can be LINKED to the crime itself, ia just fine. The CIVIL theft under colour of law is wrong. Goods and cash are stolen by LEO for suspicion, there are cases where LEO have planted "evidence" on a piece of property they desired to own, then busted the occupant and seized the property. That one was a criminal case, so they could not sell or own it until after trial. Defendant was able to show the "drugs" were placed by the same LEO who arrested, and also showed evidence supporting probable cause that the LEO deliberately tried to use forfeiture to gain a property they wanted. Of coures, NONE of the perps, that is, LEO, ever faced any consequences.. ANOTHER serious travesty of "justice". BOTH need to be fixed.

  9. As my father once told me of a man who ran a nursery and was going to California to buy his plants that he did every spring that he sold throughout the summer. He made a one day round-trip and paid cash. He was stopped at the airport and asked if he was carrying cash by the FBI and he answered truthfully he had $5000 for his business transactions. He had a list of his contacts and expected cost of transactions. He cancelled his trip because the FBI confiscated his money because they said they suspected he was a drug dealer. Should have carried traveler's checks I guess. 🙂

  10. Catherine Klimenkov says:

    Not able to read the article from New Yorker kept giveing me web errors suggest a new method such as Down load the article on to a PDF file.
    Thank you Catherine

  11. When I was 17 years old, my father bought me a brand new car. Then he warned me to be careful, because he told me that with such a nice car, the cops would try to plant dope in it, so they would have an excuse to seize the car. I said, "But I don't smoke dope." He answered, "I know, but if they can sneak one seed into the car, it's gone." This was in 1971.

    Why would anyone think that things would be better now, after The presidents and Congresses we've had in the meantime?

  12. When agencies are running short of cash, now, they stop investigating real crimes and start looking for an honset citizen with assets they can seize, whom they can frame. One agency in the midwest coveted a farm owned by an older farmer who had remarried. She was rather younger than he, so they thought that she might smoke pot. So they lied to a judge to get a warrant, and then broke into the house in the middle of the night, in plain clothes. Seeing armed men inside his home, the farmer shot at them. They shot back and killed him. No dope was found anywhere on the property. And none of the police involved, from the planners or the executioners of this fraud, were punished, because they shot a man "interfereing with execution of a warrant who was atteempting to murder law enforcement agents."

    Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
    I'd rather see legalized dope than see arrogant thieves with federal badges.

  13. Cobranut says:

    These laws need to be fixed.
    I see no problem with forfeiture of ill-gotten gains AFTER one is CONVICTED of a crime.
    As long as these abuses are allowed to continue NONE of us are safe.

  14. HolyShirt says:

    Approximately twenty years ago, a telegraphy transmitter sold to me by the Defense Reutilization Marketing Office at Tobyhanna Army Depot was stolen from me by the Carbon County (Pennsylvania) District Attorney., using civil forfeiture law.. Brand new and packed in its easily traced, thoroughly-stenciled government shipping crate, it was stored in a securely-locked barn located behind the home of neighbors of an accused drug dealer. These neighbors were never suspected nor charged, but nevertheless their barn suffered damage from forcible entry and its contents seized for cops' fun and profit. Made aware by the legal-notice in a local newspaper, I notified the D.A. they had seized my personal property and failed to perform their due diligence to determine its rightful owner, easily accomplished by tracing the stenciled crate markings. He claimed the tiny legal-ad was all the diligence the law required, He also threatened to charge me with drug dealing if I dared to appeal the forfeiture. No personal property is worth facing dumbed-down jurors for bogus charges by corrupt cops.

  15. HolyShirt says:

    In our intentionally dumbed-down, compliant population, no segment is immune; not a president, senator, congressman, judge, juror, attorney, civil servant, butcher, baker or candlestick-maker. Since S.A.T. scores peaked in 1963, they have never risen above the prior year's. The Scholastic Aptitude Test grades one's ability to reason effectively, not one's knowledge. Read Steve Allen's 1992 book, "DUMBTH: The Lost Art of Thinking" for more examples, and exercises to improve one's abilities.

  16. HolyShirt says:

    Such as near-sighted, tunnel-visioned Red Light Cameras, remotely-operated by kids thousands of miles away, who decide what the "investigating [police] officer can and cannot see, using civil charges that apply no points, nor ability to defend?

  17. I never give costumed tax feeding thugs the benefit of the doubt anymore.

    Also, you are a f**king statist rat. If you want to see an end to 9 year olds selling dope, then side with folks who want to end the failed War on (some) Drugs.

  18. Where are all the pro bono lawyers who are looking to build a reputation? Take your fees from winning counter suits. Asset forfeiture must stop or be restricted to those convicted of serious offenses. What's to stop them from seizing my car for a traffic violation or my house if the neighbors complain that my music is too loud? The only way to stop it is to make it too expensive for them. If they take my $5000 car and it costs them $50,000 in damages and compensation, maybe they'll get the message that We The People won't be pushed around!

  19. I'll consider supporting drug legalization(or decriminalization) after the welfare state is dismantled. As long as I have to pay when you destitute yourself(notice I said "when" not "if"), I have a say in what vices you can partake. If you want help getting clean, I'll give you the shirt off my back! But if you want my money for another fix, I want the option to step over you or cross to the other side of the street.

  20. Watch the movie Idiocracy. It's so stupid, I had a hard time getting through it, but it's too prophetic to miss.

  21. ncbill12 says:

    They're targeting people who won't or don't have the resources to fight back.

    Sure, you or I would hire an attorney and sue them back, and go after the DA with the bar, but migrant workers (legal or not) carrying a season's worth of earnings in cash back to Mexico never would.

  22. This article brings a memory of the old saying: " Who will guard the guards ? " If the property were confiscated AFTER a just trial and conviction, I could support it. I used to room with a Detroit cop when I was attending WSU. I can tell you firsthand that all the boys in blue are not of sterling character. My roommate came home one morning wearing a new Rolex watch. I asked him where he got it. He told me he had twisted it off a pimp's arm when they were arresting the pimp. The pimp complained, but the cops said the watch must have fallen in the gutter in the struggle to arrest the pimp. Whom do you suppose the judge believed- the cops or the pimp? I know some cops of fine character and integrity, but temptation applies to every human being, whether they are good guys or bad guys…

  23. Hey, I have zero problem ending the welfare state. While we're at it, end the warfare state. Shit, I'm cool with ending the state altogether.