Asset forfeiture: aimed at drug lords or … you?

On Behalf of | Jul 16, 2019 | Asset Forfeiture

Here’s a quick point to note about state and federal law enforcers’ enthusiastic support of the seizure tactic known as asset forfeiture: Proponents from Alabama to Alaska can talk all day about how valuable the practice is. In doing so, they extol the great service it provides to law-abiding individuals and families against large-scale criminal activities.

Does that claim hold water?

Not according to a recent in-depth study. In fact, research findings from the national Institute for Justice flatly conclude that arguments supporting asset forfeiture drown in deceit and misapplication.

What’s wrong with the justifications cited for asset forfeiture?

Candidly, the empirical evidence focused on the pros and cons of asset forfeiture dismisses the alleged merits and points instead to an ocean of concerns from a public-threat standpoint. Here are two core realities that no amount of enforcement rhetoric can alter:

  • Forfeiture targets serious crime figures far less than it does ordinary citizens
  • Enforcers’ claims about forfeiture’s value as a tool to reduce crime are far closer to nonsense than they are to truth

A recent in-depth article on the above-cited study notes a bottom line concerning asset forfeiture that should be truly concerning to the American general public (and especially to individuals vulnerable to pretextual police stops owing to racial profiling). That media report stresses that the data examining asset forfeiture’s claim of merit find its effectiveness to be “at worst, insignificant and at best wildly overstated.”

What do research proofs underscore concerning asset forfeiture?

The spotlight on forfeiture turns harsh when supporters’ hyperbole gives way to objective analysis. It illuminates these truths:

  • Average takings in a seizure are far smaller than what enforcers routinely claim
  • When times are economically tough, enforcers employ the tactic even more often than usual
  • Legions of cases conclude with enforcers’ keeping seized assets even in the absence of a criminal conviction
  • Police agencies skirt state laws curbing forfeiture by partnering with federal enforcers not bound by them

That bullet point above regarding takings amounts rebuts government claims that seizures are all about things like airplanes, yachts, luxury cars and suitcases full of cash linked with illegal drug activity. Relevant research stresses that the core focus of forfeiture is on “everyday people, not drug lords.”

The referenced sidestepping of state laws is achieved by federal agents’ “adoption” of a forfeiture case and funneling of seized revenue back to local agencies. Reportedly, that run-around tactic stuffs state police coffers with hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

The Institute for Justice and broad-based critics of asset forfeiture across the country roundly conclude that the practice is immoral and constitutionally defective.

The reams of steadily emerging evidence targeting forfeiture make it hard to reasonably come up with any other conclusion.