There are two categories of property forfeitures, civil and criminal. Criminal forfeitures occur only after the person charged with a crime has been convicted. Then the seized property can forfeited to the government. Only civil forfeitures are within the scope of this essay.
Ten Federal government agencies take part in the corrupt practice of civil forfeiture of property to police, or other similar officers of the law. Probably most involved is the Drug Enforcement Agency where likelihood of a crime involving drug possession or trafficking occurs. States and their municipalities are by far the most likely governments to use civil forfeitures because they operate as racquets or more politely as “policing for profit”. I can recall small towns known for their police monitoring speed limits on highways that pass through the town on Main Street having speed traps set up to fund the department on fines for out-of-state drivers – the locals only need to learn once. Four states have, in the last five years, abolished completely their states’ civil forfeiture laws; NE, NM, ME, and NC, as irreconcilable with good government. Amen to that! Sixteen states have laws that require reasonable causes for forfeitures, such as a conviction of some recognizable offense; in other words, some due process and rule of law. Without that protection governments’ have too great an incentive to “mess with the truth” by the police officers being made revenue producers, not as deterrents of crime. Morally, government is turning police into being crooks. There has to be an offense connected to the object of the seizure of a person’s property. Convict on the crime or otherwise return to the owner the seized property.
That leaves thirty states and the District of Columbia offering no protections from rogue police stopping and seizing property on a pretense as small as “belief that it is involved in a crime.” From looking at the files of the American Civil Liberties Union, and The Institute for Justice, it appears that only about one-fourth of the value of the seized and forfeited property value gets returned to its owners and in most cases the whole value is retained by the police.
Like the speed trap in the small town, the City of Philadelphia has well-oiled machinery to make theft a legitimate business for the city and its police department. The courthouse in City Center contains Chamber 478 that has no judges, no bailiffs, no clerks or recorders to track what is going on. What is going on is the injustice of civil forfeitures. The process is drawn out in order to convey to the victim that it could be some time before anything will happen, if at all, or ever. There are appointments, but sometimes nobody is there to keep it; time is on the side of the police. If the victim does not appear for an appointment that is reason enough for the forfeiture to be made final. These and other procedures are what account for the department seizing and forfeiting multi-millions of dollars per year. So bad, that the Institute for Justice sued in a class action case against the City and won injunctions against the City forcing reform. The Institute for Justice Institute recently announced a victory over the State of Indiana. After eight years the State finally abandoned its quest to seize IJ client Tyson Timbs’ Land Rover through civil forfeiture.
The ten Federal Agencies that have Civil Forfeitures procedures of their own have offered to State and Municipal police departments to take up all the burden of red tape from the State for the right to keep 20% and give-back to the State 80% of the forfeited value. This is called by the Justice Department “an Equitable Sharing Program”.
The legal euphemism called “moral hazard” minimally describes how pernicious The State can be. “It is dangerous for a person to be right when it is the State that is wrong” said Voltaire. Civil Forfeiture is legalized theft and should be prosecuted, but since it is the government that is wrong, nothing happens. It is of the kind of civil action the Supreme Court made legal as “sovereign immunity” where certain government employees (police officers) are beyond reach of the law for violating the civil liberties of citizens, including unto death. Civil forfeiture also has a Supreme Court blessing.
The House Subcommittee of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of the 117th Congress opened on December 8, 2021 a hearing on: “Forfeiting our Rights; The Urgent Need for Civil Liberties. Jamie Raskin, (D, MD Chairman).
Publiustoo.com December 24, 2021