Civil forfeiture: The ransacking of the American people


Civil forfeiture: The ransacking of the American people

Reece Napierski

Civil forfeiture may be one of the most sordid rackets of the last couple of decades, a scheme so devious, so heinous, that it would make swine like Bernie Madoff and Charles Ponzi blush. For the blissfully ignorant, civil forfeiture is the legal process in which law enforcement can seize someone’s property without having to charge him with criminal wrongdoing. The police can take money and other valuables without having to charge a person with, or prove, he committed a crime. Innocence means nothing and does not require that the state or police return property. How a system as unjust as this not only exists but excels within the United States is astounding. Giving law enforcement a blank check to seize private property is something you would expect in the Soviet Union or an authoritarian dictatorship, not a liberal democracy which is built upon a foundation of indelible rights. 

Unfortunately, the amount of assets seized via civil forfeiture continues to grow. In 2014, the total value of assets taken exceeded the total value of assets burgled within the United States. Through the perverted practice, the government took nearly a billion more dollars from its citizens than the criminals it is tasked to stop. Our own law enforcement, the people hired to guard both us and our society, are now stealing more from the very people they’re meant to protect than the criminals they should be stopping. At what point does law enforcement degenerate into nothing more than a government-sanctioned cartel? Libertarians often like to claim that taxation is theft, and while there may or may not be an argument for that, it is undeniable that civil asset forfeiture is nothing more than government legitimized larceny.  

So why is civil forfeiture a growing problem? Why are law enforcement agencies risking the possible backlash from literally stealing from people? The answer is as simple as it is downright repulsive—greed and hubris. Many cash-strapped municipalities rely on civil forfeiture for a growing percentage of their total operating revenue, which, in theory, is fine. Funds seized from drug dealers and legitimate criminals mind as well go back into the agency that caught them. It is a good way of both incentivizing law enforcement and simultaneously keeping them wellfunded. However, because civil forfeiture requires no conviction or charge, innocent people quickly become easy targets. And due to the difficulty of taking legal action, only one-sixth of civil forfeiture cases are ever challenged, and even fewer result in recompense. The police realize that they’re, for the most part, untouchable, and use it to their advantage. Individual officers and agents simply fade into the larger soup of their respective agencies. Why care what the public thinks when you have next to no chance of getting punished?

It is evident that civil forfeiture has no place in a justice system based upon innocence until guilt is proven. It is an absolute slap in the face to anyone who values legitimate, blind justice and a system that places an equal value on all people regardless of occupation or position in society. In the simplest terms, civil forfeiture is nothing more than theft—theft dressed in the deceptive veneer of protecting people against criminals while the very people who are charged with said protection rob those people blind. Civil forfeiture is another symptom of the continuing corruption of America’s law enforcement and needs to be eradicated like the toxic scourge it is before it spreads and births even more authoritarian legislation.