Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Forfeiture: legalized bribery

Jerry Stratton, February 6, 2010

Looks like civil forfeiture/seizure is in the news again. For all practical purposes, forfeiture has become legalized bribery. For drug dealers, it’s a cost of doing business; for the cops, it’s a way of institutionalizing hush payments. The cops take the money, the criminal gets to go free.

In 2008 there was about 2.8 billion dollars taken by federal law enforcement without any charge. Eighty percent of “criminals” whose assets were taken by the feds were never charged. If those billions truly were taken from criminals, what’s the difference between this and bribery? And that’s just the federal government. Another billion or more is taken in by local authorities.

The only people who win are drug dealers. The innocent lose. Their money or property is gone; they can’t get it back except by proving it innocent—and can only do this on the government’s timetable.

Take a look at the case of Anthony Smelley. Sounds suspicious enough, but think about it: if Smelley were a drug dealer, he just paid the cops to look the other way; if he’s innocent, the cops just stole the money from him. It’s a lose-lose situation for everyone except drug dealers and corrupt police departments.

Or take a look at RowerinVA’s comments on the Volokh Conspiracy. He’s trying to justify the practice by saying that his clients, who he knows are guilty, don’t want the money back. To them, it’s just a cost of doing business.

The police aren’t interested in finding them, because they are a source of funds. Asset forfeiture was one of the worst things to happen to prohibition enforcement. Enforcing our drug laws has never been successful, but letting the police and the state make money off of drug dealers means that some departments, cities, and states, just as with speeding, rely on at least a certain number of criminals in order to make their budget. These localities and law enforcement agencies need more drug dealers.

Forfeiture has become a means for criminals to get off free, and the innocent to suffer.

  1. <- Citizens United
  2. One-party act ->