North Texas Daily

Civil asset forfeiture should be abolished

Civil asset forfeiture should be abolished

Civil asset forfeiture should be abolished
February 04
09:00 2021

Highway-robbery refers to a robbery committed near or on a highway, typically against travelers. However, when it is the police committing the theft, it is instead called civil asset forfeiture.

 

Civil asset forfeiture is a policy in the U.S. allowing law enforcement agents to seize cash, valuables, vehicles and real estate from people suspected of committing a crime without charging them. If the owner does not challenge the seizure in court, the assets become public funds integrated into police budgets in most states. 

 

At face value, this is a powerful tool to cripple organized crime by going after their revenue streams and redirecting the money into the community. However, by looking deeper, a pattern emerges of law enforcement using civil asset forfeiture to target and oppress marginalized Americans.

 

Civil asset forfeiture encourages corruption in law enforcement because the assets supplement their budgets and pensions. Most assets seized are in small amounts that would not be worth fighting for in court due to the lengthy process and costly legal fees, according to a study on civil asset forfeiture by The Institute of Justice, . Since the owners do not challenge the seizure in court, it creates a false narrative that the people targeted were guilty, further justifying these exploitative practices.

 

The study further asserts that there is no evidence that forfeiture programs reduce crime as there is not any significant data showing advancement in criminal investigations. The ineffectiveness of civil asset forfeiture is demonstrated further by data from the state of New Mexico, which effectively abolished it at the state level in 2015 and has not seen an increase in crime since.

 

Journalist Sarah Stillman covered this exploitation extensively in her public interest article, Taken, for The New Yorker in 2013. In her article, Stillman describes police in East Texas using civil asset forfeiture to justify their predatory practices on travelers. The police officers would target rental cars or people with out of state license plates and use minor moving violations to detain them and interrogate them on why they were traveling. Officers would then use K-9 units to sniff for drugs or interpret the driver’s nervousness as probable cause to search the vehicle. During the search, they would seize any cash or valuables from the travelers while threatening to charge them with crimes they did not commit.

 

This policy is a detriment to the American people because it places Americans at the mercy of profiteering police who act like highwaymen rather than highway patrol. It violates our fourth amendment rights and is reminiscent of the tyranny of writs of assistance that our forefathers endured. It taints our most sacred principle of being innocent until proven guilty.

 

Now that Democrats control all three government branches, they should add abolishing civil asset forfeiture to their policy goals. The relationship between law enforcement and American citizens has become increasingly strained in recent years. Abolishing civil asset forfeiture would be a step in the right direction to heal that relationship.

Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles

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Steven Nickols

Steven Nickols

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