Vox on Civil Asset Forfeiture

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

There is worthwhile article at Vox about "civil forfeiture," of which I have heard, but have not thought much about. Titled, "These States Let Police Take and Keep Your Stuff Even if You Haven't Committed a Crime," the piece states the following early on:

These states fully allow what's known as "civil forfeiture": Police officers can seize someone's property without proving the person was guilty of a crime; they just need probable cause to believe the assets are being used as part of criminal activity, typically drug trafficking.

Police can then absorb the value of this property -- be it cash, cars, guns, or something else -- as profit, either through state programs or under a federal program known as Equitable Sharing, which lets local and state police get up to 80 percent of the value of what they seize as money for their departments. [bold added]
I am open to the idea that this controversial practice could be used, with much stricter limits, for legitimate ends, but it strikes me as an abuse of government power. Also, it hardly surprises me that even the most cursory search shows it to be (or have been) a major component of two things that definitely are abuses of government power: the "War on Drugs" and Prohibition.

Perhaps, because public opinion about the question of drug legalization is shifting, the time is ripe to examine this practice and reform it (if it is legitimate) or eliminate it altogether (if it is not).

-- CAV


Kyle Haight said...

Sadly, I have to question your statement that public belief on drug legalization is shifting. To my mind the essence of a proper view on drug legalization is that individuals have a right to take recreational chemicals even if they are addictive and personally harmful. I don't think views on that have changed significantly.

What has shifted is the public view on whether marijuana specifically is personally harmful. But legalizing weed on the grounds that it isn't personally harmful doesn't constitute progress on the intellectual foundation of drug prohibition. As is, we're likely to wind up with marijuana legal and tobacco banned.

Gus Van Horn said...


I have to again admit that you are correct. At best, we might have the opportunity to make the broader case you mention, given the more relaxed attitude about marijuana.

But even then, we're going to have a tough time convincing many that tobacco should remain legal.

And thinking further, many of the people becoming upset about civil asset forfeiture are probably similarly inconsistent regarding property -- and so have no qualms about the routine forfeiture of large amounts of money (e.g., via taxes) for their favorite government handout.

Thank for taking the time to comment.