Here are three reasons why President Donald Trump is wrong to oppose civil asset forfeiture reform.
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Civil forfeiture lets law enforcement basically steal stuff from people.
Civil asset forfeiture allows cops and federal agencies such as the FBI to seize cash and property of suspected criminals but it doesn’t require them to bring any charges against their targets or even show that they were in any way involved with wrongdoing.
In 2014, for instance, a Philadelphia couple had their house seized after police arrested their son for possessing $40 of heroin while living there. The parents weren’t charged with any crime but in Pennsylvania and many other states, owners of seized property must prove their innocence to get their stuff back.
Civil forfeiture creates terrible incentives for police.
In many cases, the agency that seizes property and cash gets to keep a big chunk of it to fund purchases of equipment and pay personnel costs. In Mississippi in 2015, state narcotics officers alone seized $4 million in cash, cars—and even couches!
In the Magnolia State, cops only get to keep 80 percent of the value of seized assets, but in 26 states, law enforcement gets to keep 100 percent of their haul, giving them an incentive to grab as much as possible, especially since it’s time-consuming and expensive for defendants to go to court.
Civil forfeiture is extremely unpopular.
Although most states do their best to hide how much civil forfeiture goes on, it is an increasingly unpopular practice because it so obviously contravenes basic notions of justice. Even in deep-red states—such as Ohio, Utah, and Mississippi—polls routinely show massive majorities in favor of reform once voters understand just how unfair and non-transparent the process is.
In fact, when President Trump threatened to “destroy” the career of a Texas state senator, he could have been referring to any of four politicians, three Republicans and a Democrat, who were deeply involved in reform efforts.
Civil asset forfeiture reform is an idea whose time has come, in Texas and elsewhere, whether Donald Trump is ready or not.
Written by Nick Gillespie. Graphics and editing by Meredith Bragg and Joshua Swain.