Is Civil Forfeiture Theft?

I’m sure that many of you have heard of Civil Forfeiture. Civil forfeiture is a tool used by police to seize money, cars, or property that is believed to have been used in a crime (without obtaining either a warrant or probable cause). Since it is a civil procedure against property, not a person, there need not be a criminal conviction. In fact many times people are not actually charged or convicted of a crime. Many of you have seen the video of the hot dog vendor that had money taken out of his wallet by a University of California officer that went viral recently.

report done by the Justice Department’s Inspector General states that since 2007, the DEA has seized more than $4 billion in cash from people suspected of involvement with the drug trade. But 81 percent of those seizures, totaling $3.2 billion, were conducted administratively, meaning no civil or criminal charges were brought against the owners of the cash and no judicial review of the seizures ever occurred. *That total does not include the dollar value of other seized assets, like cars, homes, electronics and clothing.

Some states have signed bills into law which make it so police actually have to arrest and charge a person with a crime before attempting to seize and keep their money and property under the state’s asset forfeiture laws. For many years, one of the primary drivers of these perverse incentives has been a federal practice called equitable sharing. Under this practice, state and local law enforcement can have a seizure adopted by the federal government—that is to say, placed under federal jurisdiction—and be allowed to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds from the adopted seizures, with the remaining 20 percent going to federal agencies.

The Justice Department have recently announced their plans to reinstate the use of asset forfeiture, especially for drug suspects — making it easier for local law enforcement to seize cash and property from crime suspects and reap the proceeds. When asked why the DOJ would override the will of over 20 states that do not want their citizens subject to this, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein repeatedly claimed that this practice will help solve the opiate problem in america. He didn’t mention that we are in control of the country in which 90% of opium is grown.

In my opinion it’s common sense that if you should have to prove guilt before taking peoples money or property. Just being suspected of having money that came from drugs should not be enough for the state to take it. It’s extremely clear that the police are now used as a revenue stream rather than true defenders of the people. Now with the reversal of the ban against the military selling surplus military equipment to local police departments, i bet some of the seized money will go toward buying military vehicles for hometown use. YAY!

Since there is no doubt that some of the money taken by police departments belonged to people that never committed a crime, It’s very easy to say there is some theft involved. In my opinion many laws don’t actually stop people from breaking them, but the more laws the more money can be made. If you were pulled over and a cop said he smelled marijuana and found a box of sandwich baggies, should that be enough to take all the money in your wallet?

Do you think that police should be able to prove in court that a person has committed crimes or made the seized money through criminal activity, before the police are able to take money or property from an individual?