Imagine a world where police officers regularly confiscate property from civilians, based only on officers’ accusations of criminal conduct. Imagine that these allegations are never examined by a judge and that charges of criminal conduct are often never even filed.
Unfortunately, you don’t have to imagine anything, because that is the world we live in.
This is the topsy-turvy world of civil seizure and forfeiture – where just the suspicion of criminal conduct by a law enforcement officer is enough for the seizure of property. Just an accusation can be sufficient proof to seize, for example, a car, a house, or a purse containing currency – and for the property’s eventual forfeiture to the government.
The scope of this confiscation has become so large that, in recent years, the value of the property seized just by the federal government outweighs the value of property stolen by burglars.
Protections against seizure and forfeiture are so fragile that they encourage law enforcement officers to treat every roadside encounter like an interaction with a career criminal. The law encourages the investigation, detention, and search of motorists for crimes that have nothing to do with automobile travel. The possession of cash, for instance, serves as sufficient evidence that the cash is related to crime and therefore justifies its confiscation.
Why are police are encouraged to pursue seizure and forfeiture of currency and other valuable goods? Because a big portion of that confiscated property gets funneled into law enforcement budgets. Street-level officers are praised by their commanding officers when they execute cash seizures. Predictably, this practice drives a wedge between law enforcement officers and honest, law-abiding citizens. Some motorists will start viewing officers as predators, while some law enforcement officers will start to see those whom they are sworn to protect and serve as prey.
Where are our public officials who are supposed to look out for justice? They must balance budgets and are constantly on the lookout for new sources of revenue. Law enforcement agencies can lighten their budget burdens by increasing the take from seizure and forfeiture. That makes policymakers resistant to good-government types who call for reforms to seizure and forfeiture – reforms that would squeeze the bottom lines of government budgets.
Read the full article at Inside Sources.