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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Civil Asset Forfeiture

I was trolling my usual set of blogs and came across this video of John Oliver (John Oliver). It is truly frightening. I am not sure how we have gotten to the current state, but it seems that we have empowered various law enforcement entities to take our property without cause. The stories he tells, which are similarly recounted in recent stories written in the New Yorker and the Washington Post (washingtonpost asset forfeiture), are strangely reminiscent of tales of local speed traps, only much worse.

As noted in the New Yorker article published by Sarah Stillman a little more than one year ago (Taken), what we are seeing now is due to the unintended consequences of laws passed in the 1970's.
"Forfeiture in its modern form began with federal statutes enacted in the nineteen-seventies and aimed not at waitresses and janitors but at organized-crime bosses and drug lords. Law-enforcement officers were empowered to seize money and goods tied to the production of illegal drugs. Later amendments allowed the seizure of anything thought to have been purchased with tainted funds, whether or not it was connected to the commission of a crime. Even then, forfeiture remained an infrequent resort until 1984, when Congress passed the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. It established a special fund that turned over proceeds from forfeitures to the law-enforcement agencies responsible for them. Local police who provided federal assistance were rewarded with a large percentage of the proceeds, through a program called Equitable Sharing. Soon states were crafting their own forfeiture laws.
Revenue gains were staggering. At the Justice Department, proceeds from forfeiture soared from twenty-seven million dollars in 1985 to five hundred and fifty-six million in 1993. (Last year, the department took in nearly $4.2 billion in forfeitures, a record.)..."

 The power to take down the likes of Pablo Escobar has been transformed into the power to terrorize innocent people. Numerous examples of local police using routine traffic stops to  seize (steal) cash from people who have committed no crime, only the indiscretion of carrying cash or other valuables in their cars. The seizures did put a dent in the activities of criminals. However, they also provided a tool for law enforcement to steal of the innocent public without due process or recourse.