Civil Forfeiture

This is an issue that has been around for a while, and one of the illiberal legacies of the war on drugs.  Police have broad powers to seize your property with very little due process, and the incentive to do so as they are generally allowed to keep the proceeds of these seizures in their budgets.  John Stossel writes about the problem in his column today.  Unfortunately, I see little bleed-through of this issue our of libertarian blogs into the partisan ones, though I do remember Kevin Drum doing something on it a while back.  Knowing politicians, I hold out little hope that in a time when government budgets are under assault, politicians will voluntarily give up the power to grab operating funds off the street.

Most of the stories in the article were familiar to me, though this expansion of the concept was new:

[Radley] Balko has reported on a case in which police confiscated cash from a man when they found it in his car. "The state's argument was that maybe he didn't get it from selling drugs, but he might use that money to buy drugs at some point in the future. Therefore, we're still allowed to take it from him," Balko said.

Sounds like that Tom Cruise movie "Minority Report," where the police predict future crimes and arrest the "perpetrator."


  1. gn:

    Why stop at cash in the car? Maybe he has a nice boombox sitting in the back seat, and he is on his way to pawn it to get cash to buy drugs. Better take that.

    And better check his checking account balance. Cash is only a trip-to-the-atm away.. better go ahead and clean that out to do what we can in the war on drugs.

    Didn't the Roman armies support themselves by extracting tribute from those they "governed?"

  2. Bill:

    Obama's proposed "preventive detention" program falls in this same category.

  3. morganovich:

    i have a question-

    if police are allowed to seize and sell a car suspected of having been used in a drug crime (and they are and they do) this seems to be to be an egregious violation of due process. then can sell your car before the matter is tried and you don't get it back even if you are innocent.

    surely someone must have tested this practice in court under unreasonable seizure.

    by what rationale was the practice upheld?

    i honestly cannot think of a single constitutionally valid argument.

  4. me:

    Seizure on suspicion and a state secrets doctrine that preempts trials or communication with lawyers or judges... I think we may strike "due" from "due process".

  5. NJConservative:

    I have gone from a law abiding youth who had a natural respect for the police to a law abiding middle-aged man who has utter contempt for the police. I have taught my children that they must respect authority, but that they must not cooperate with information, because the system has become corrupt.

    Yes sir.
    No sir.
    No, I do not consent to any search of my person or property.
    I would like an attorney please.

    ...and nothing else.

  6. tomw:

    Boortz in Atlanta has reported on his radio show about seizures of cash by the 'authorities'. Someone was on his way to buy a car that had been advertised on craigslist, and was taking cash when he was stopped and the money confiscated.

    From memory, there was no resolution, and they still had his money more than 6 months after the seizure.
    This, sad to say, is not new.

  7. Terry:

    This isn't the only area where they have determined guilt on possible future actions. DWI's are another where they've strecthed it to where even if you elect not to drive but "sleep it off" in your vehicle, you will be charged on concept that you "might" drive. I've even "heard", not confirmed, that if you elect to be a "designated driver" but pulled over with intoxicated habitants, they can charge you. It used to be the keys had to be in the ignition, now if you are walking down the street and you have keys in your pocket..DUI....cause you "may intend" to drive. But remember, police don't make the laws, just enforce them.