The Continued Harms of Civil Asset Forfeiture
The murder of George Floyd causes us to bring into question police brutality, as well as other major issues with law enforcement – such as the harms of civil asset forfeiture. What is it, and how harmful is it? The answers may surprise you.
What is Civil Asset Forfeiture?
Put simply, civil asset forfeiture allows law enforcement to seize property that they deem to be used in a crime. They can then keep the property or sell it. There tends to be little to no checks and balances. The process is subjective and tends to lead to mistakes and unjust arrests. Over the course of 20 years, the federal government took in close to $40 billion worth of assets seized on U.S. roadways and in poor neighbors. Many of the owners of the seized property were never charged with a crime. In fact, there is no presumption of innocence required, nor do victims of civil asset forfeiture have a right to an attorney before their property is taken. This has led to court cases where judges ruled that it’s unconstitutional for police to seize property without proving a crime was committed.
The Antiquated Origins of the Tactic
The police tactic was originally presented as a way to take down large-scale criminal enterprises by taking control of their resources. But that’s antiquated and not always used in that way. It’s nearly impossible to quantify how much property was seized from real criminals without some large-scale oversight. However, police reform and oversight should probably be used more to focus on preventing cops from murdering people first. Civil asset forfeiture is harmful and can ruin an innocent person’s life based solely on an officer’s opinion or suspicion.
This tactic has its antiquated roots as a legal fiction that actually can be traced back to the days of pirates. The English Royal Navy used to seize ships of suspected pirates. They did this even if there was no proof ships were actually used for pirating. This same idea persists today on major interstates and corridors. The outdated idea persists and makes the unfounded and ridiculous claim that a piece of property can be a criminal.
A Margarita Machine?
However, local and state police nationwide use the method to take control of property of all kinds. Police often use this to boost their bottom line rather than fight crime. Police spend the funds from the sales of seized property on squad cars, exercise equipment, bigger jail cells, or basically anything they want. In fact, the Texas Tribune reported that cops there used funds from civil asset forfeiture on a margarita machine. In 2014, police and law enforcement agencies of all kinds seized over $5 billion in property. This figure was a billion dollars more than property actually taken by burglars. Police took more property from people than robbers did.
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