Civil asset forfeiture isn’t very popular in the United States, unless you’re a prosecutor or a police officer anyway. The idea of the government taking your stuff and it being ridiculously difficult to get it back doesn’t sit well with folks, nor should it. You know what really shouldn’t sit well with people? How about the idea that the police are taking more stuff than the criminals are?
Between 1989 and 2010, U.S. attorneys seized an estimated $12.6 billion in asset forfeiture cases. The growth rate during that time averaged +19.4% annually.
In 2010 alone, the value of assets seized grew by +52.8% from 2009 and was six times greater than the total for 1989.
Then by 2014, that number had ballooned to roughly $4.5 billion for the year, making this 35% of the entire number of assets collected from 1989 to 2010 in a single year.
Now, according to the FBI, the total amount of goods stolen by criminals in 2014 burglary offenses suffered an estimated $3.9 billion in property losses. This means that the police are now taking more assets than the criminals.
Now, to be fair, the police seizures tend to focus on more “big ticket” items like cars, boats, and large wads of cash while criminals are stealing things like beat up lawn mowers, used TV sets, and whatever you have in your wallet.
Ostensibly, there is a mechanism to get items returned that have taken by police. However, it’s not just difficult, but ridiculously so. You see, regardless of why police take your property, the way to get it back is that you have to go to court. Your car, house, boat, whatever is put on trial, basically. The only thing is, the rules are different.
The legal concepts of “innocent until prove guilty” and that you should have an attorney only apply to humans. Your car? It’s considered “guilty,” basically and you have to prove its innocence. The reason we don’t use that standard with people is because it’s often virtually impossible to prove innocence. Plus, since you have to hire an attorney out of your own pocket, it’s often not worth the cost of replacing the item itself.
The worst part is that the fix is so simple. You merely change it so that police can only keep seized assets if the owner is convicted of a crime. This adds to the punishment factor, but also puts a curb on abuse of the system to make up for budgetary shortfalls. It’s just too bad that some parties act like that’s unacceptable.