My post a few months ago on the evils of Civil Forfeiture just drew this response:
Hmmm….you wouldn’t have to worry about civil forfeiture if you weren’t committing crime. Property is seized (money, cars, jewelry ect) when located in immediate proximity of narcotic related sales and when they are used in the commission of felony crimes.
That’s not quite how it works. Despite the principle that people are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, police don’t actually have to prove anything in order to sieze property under the forfeiture laws. Police merely have to assert a reasonable suspicion that property is involved in a crime in order to seize it.
Plain and simple, this is punishment without a trial.
It’s true that for legal purposes a seizure under civil forfeiture is not considered punishment for a crime, but that’s just so much legal sophistry. Police say you committed a crime, police get to take your stuff. Call it what you like, it’s still a fine for criminal behavior without the dreary need for actual proof in a courtroom.
What’s especially dangerous about civil forfeiture is that many police departments get to keep the stuff they seize and either use it or sell it and keep the money. Some departments would have to lay off a bunch of cops if the seizure money ever stopped coming in. This gives police in the department an incredibly strong incentive to lie when making seizures. It’s a clear conflict of interest.
It also distorts police priorities. Who are police more likely to go after in a civil forfeiture action, the mid-level gangster who owns no vehicles or property in his own name, or the doctor who gave out suspicious prescriptions for painkillers and supposedly used these ill-gotten gains to buy his million-dollar home? Which one should they be going after?
Don’t whine because the police seize drug and weapons profit in an effort to further make this crappy ass joke of a world filled with people like you a little better. How about you spend more time worrying about what these problems are doing in the way of destroying communities and less about protecting criminals.
Oh yeah, the War on Drugs. How’s that going?
You see, there’s an ugly side effect to paying for our police forces with money seized from drug dealers: The cashflow in the police department, and the jobs of the officers themselves, begins to depend on the existence of a robust drug-dealing economy. I’m not saying that the police are corrupt, but I do think this arrangement discourages governments from looking for alternative solutions to the problem of drug-related violence.
In particular, it makes it even less likely that we’ll see drug legalization or even a significant program of harm reduction.
It is easy to bitch and moan about civil issues as you sit miles away in your suburban homes far removed from the destruction and violence these crimes cause.
Point of order: I don’t live in the suburbs. I live in the city of Chicago. I was born here. Granted, I live in one of the safer neighborhoods, but I’ve heard shots fired and seen a body or two.
The whole point of having civil liberties is that they apply all the time. The right to a presumption of innocence isn’t much of a right if it only applies when it’s not inconvenient.