Tag Archives: asset forfeiture

Florida passes law outlawing theft by government

Good news: Florida’s Republican governor today signed a law that forbids state police from seizing any property from any citizen unless they actually arrest and charge that person with a crime.

The big deal with this particular reform is that, in most cases, Florida police will actually have to arrest and charge a person with a crime before attempting to seize and keep their money and property under the state’s asset forfeiture laws. One of the major ways asset forfeiture gets abused is that it is frequently a “civil”, not criminal, process where police and prosecutors are able to take property without even charging somebody with a crime, let alone convicting them. This is how police are, for example, able to snatch cash from cars they’ve pulled over and claim they suspect the money was going to be used for drug trafficking without actually finding any drugs.

I should also note that getting this law written and passed was spear-headed by the Republicans in Florida’s legislature, though Democrats there also supported it. I note this not to imply that Republican politicians are great, which they routinely are not, but to note that of the two parties, in recent years it has generally been the Republicans who have opposed asset forfeiture, which I like to call theft-by-government.

Sadly, the Republicans were key players in getting this kind of policy legalized in the first place.

In both cases, it is really the voters who to blame, or to be credited. When the laws were passed allowing police the right to confiscate private property, the voters cheered, thinking such actions would help stop the drug trade (which they were encouraging by buying the drugs). Politicians responded to the voters, and passed the laws, tweaking them as power-hungry politicians do to make them work to the government’s favor, not the citizens. Now, having realized how bad these laws are, the voters are electing politicians who want to remove the laws. That pressure is resulting in laws like this.

Milton Friedman explained this process quite wisely many years ago.

Justice Department resumes program to steal property of citizens

Theft by government: The Obama Justice Department has resumed its partnership with state police departments to seize the property of citizens for profit.

Asset forfeiture is a contentious practice that lets police seize and keep cash and property from people who are never convicted of wrongdoing — and in many cases, never charged. Studies have found that use of the practice has exploded in recent years, prompting concern that, in some cases, police are motivated more by profit and less by justice.

The Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program allowed state and local authorities to pursue asset forfeiture under federal, rather than state law, particularly in instances where local law enforcement officers have a relationship with federal authorities as part of a joint task force. Federal forfeiture policies are more permissive than many state policies, allowing police to keep up to 80 percent of assets they seize.

Participation by the Justice Department had been suspended in December, but not because the Obama administration didn’t like the program, it turns out. Instead, the suspension allowed them to keep the money themselves that local police had seized under federal law. This however discouraged local police from pursuing more confiscations, so they have resumed the program.

The graph at the link is incredible. Do you know that citizens now lose more property to the government under this program than they do from ordinary burglaries?