The contemporary model of civil forfeiture in the US was introduced as part of the “war on drugs”. Under terms of this law, which varies across US jurisdictions, law enforcement officers can seize property involved in unlawful, or suspected unlawful activity, such as drug dealing. In some jurisdictions, law enforcement organisations are allowed to keep some or all of the assets seized. This has led to some notable abuse, notoriously in Tenaha, Texas, but in other jurisdictions too.
Why post this to IBS? Just an interesting aside on the “culture” of confiscation in the US.
“In general, you needn’t be found guilty to have your assets claimed by law enforcement; in some states, suspicion on a par with “probable cause” is sufficient. Nor must you be charged with a crime, or even be accused of one. Unlike criminal forfeiture, which requires that a person be convicted of an offense before his or her property is confiscated, civil forfeiture amounts to a lawsuit filed directly against a possession, regardless of its owner’s guilt or innocence.
“One result is the rise of improbable case names such as United States v. One Pearl Necklace and United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins. (Jennifer Boatright and Ron Henderson’s forfeiture was slugged State of Texas v. $6,037. [their story earlier in the article - Northernshrike]) “The protections our Constitution usually affords are out the window,” Louis Rulli, a clinical law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading forfeiture expert, observes. A piece of property does not share the rights of a person. There’s no right to an attorney and, in most states, no presumption of innocence. Owners who wish to contest often find that the cost of hiring a lawyer far exceeds the value of their seized goods. Washington, D.C., charges up to twenty-five hundred dollars simply for the right to challenge a police seizure in court, which can take months or even years to resolve.”
“…But civil-forfeiture statutes continued to proliferate, and at the state and local level controls have often been lax. Many states, facing fiscal crises, have expanded the reach of their forfeiture statutes, and made it easier for law enforcement to use the revenue however they see fit. In some Texas counties, nearly forty per cent of police budgets comes from forfeiture.”
The typical victims are poor, often black or Hispanic, i.e. individuals without the means to contest what’s been done to them.