Policing should not be done for profit
Civil asset forfeiture is a law enforcement tool intended to recover the “ill-gotten gains” of illegal activity, such as Ponzi scheme proceeds. Too often, however, it is used against citizens who are not even accused of, much less convicted of, a crime. Worse still, state -- and especially federal -- rules actually encourage this behavior to pad police budgets.
A new Institute for Justice report, “Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture,” highlights the extent of these abuses and the need for reform. In IJ’s review of forfeiture laws, 35 states received a grade of D-plus or worse. The federal government earned a D-minus.
Unfortunately, the federal government allows law enforcement agencies to circumvent their state laws through the federal equitable sharing program, which has looser requirements and allows local police to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds.
Unlike criminal forfeitures, which require a conviction, civil asset forfeitures operate under a lower standard of evidence and absurdly charge the cash or other property in question with a crime, rather than an individual. No wonder the Justice Department used the more lax civil procedures in 87 percent of forfeiture cases from 1997-2013, according to the IJ report. For many people, the time and legal costs required to contest a seizure exceed the amount seized from them, so it is simply not worth it to fight it.
Civil forfeitures are big money for the police, and have become increasingly popular in recent years. “Nationwide, forfeiture revenue has exploded,” IJ reports. “Since 2001, annual federal forfeiture revenue has increased from less than $500 million to more than $5 billion in 2014 -- a 10-fold increase in just 14 years.” That $5 billion is greater than the value of all burglary and robbery losses in the U.S. combined.
“As long as state and federal laws fail to protect property owners and give law enforcement a financial incentive to take property, civil forfeiture will continue to grow,” Lisa Knepper, an IJ director of strategic research and co-author of the report, said in a statement. “The best solution would be to simply abolish civil forfeiture. No one should lose their property without being convicted of a crime, and law enforcement should not profit from taking people’s property.”
Civil asset forfeiture turns on its head the time-honored legal principle that one is innocent until proven guilty. It should be eliminated in favor of criminal procedures to ensure that the cops do not become the robbers.
Reprinted from the Orange County Register
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