Florida passes law outlawing theft by government


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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.

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2 comments

  • Rocco

    We can only hope other States follow this example set by Florida. The police seizing personal property just because they can is no less than that of a Stalinist state.

  • PeterF

    This is good news. Finally a state is enacting a law to protect a right of citizens that was clearly delineated in the constitution. A shame that the SCOTUS never acknowledged the immorality of such a practice as asset seizure without due process.

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