The cops shouldn’t just be able to take your stuff. And they certainly shouldn’t be able to take your stuff if you haven’t been convicted of anything. Yet, in most of the country this happens. It’s called civil asset forfeiture and it is wrong. It should be illegal. (Jeff Sessions does not agree however.)
In January two Republican lawmakers introduced legislation that would require that prosecutors actually convict people of crimes in order to keep their stuff. It would put the burden on the state to prove that the property they want to seize is connected to a crime, rather than for the defendant to prove their innocence. It would move the proceeds of forfeiture to the state’s general fund to eliminate the profit incentive for police and prosecutors to try to seize whatever they could get their hands on. And it would close a loophole that would forbid local law enforcement agencies from bypassing restrictions by participating in the federal “equitable sharing” Department of Justice forfeiture program.
On Monday, the head of the Alabama District Attorney’s Association and the Alabama Sheriffs Association teamed up with an op-ed that urges against reforms to asset forfeiture. Much of the commentary is similar to other misleading defenses of civil asset forfeiture that we’ve seen. The commentary insists that “Law enforcement uses civil asset forfeiture only to go after criminals, and state law already guarantees a process that is clear and fair for any person to challenge forfeiture in court. State law also provides built-in safeguards that protect the property of those who have committed no crime.”
The commentary here completely, deliberately ignores that because this process takes place in a “civil” system, challenging forfeiture requires people to pay for attorneys themselves. Yet, a good half of the forfeiture cases analyzed by a report put the total value of the seizure at less than $1,500, making the prospect of hiring an attorney to fight back a difficult proposition.