Asset forfeiture laws in many states allow the police to seize property that has supposedly been used to commit a crime, and then keep the proceeds for themselves. Often, these laws victimize people who have not been convicted of any crime, and indeed did not even know that their property might have been misused. They also often give the owner little or no opportunity to challenge the seizure, thereby flagrantly violating the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Needless to say, such perverse incentives lead to many abuses, as documented in a 2010 report by the Institute for Justice.
Here is Will:
Russ Caswell, 68, is bewildered: “What country are we in?” He and his wife, Pat, are ensnared in a Kafkaesque nightmare unfolding in Orwellian language….
In the lawsuit titled United States of America v. 434 Main Street, Tewksbury, Massachusetts, the government is suing an inanimate object, the motel Caswell’s father built in 1955. The U.S. Department of Justice intends to seize it, sell it for perhaps $1.5 million and give up to 80 percent of that to the Tewksbury Police Department, whose budget is just $5.5 million. The Caswells have not been charged with, let alone convicted of, a crime. They are being persecuted by two governments eager to profit from what is antiseptically called the “equitable sharing” of the fruits of civil forfeiture, a process of government enrichment that often is indistinguishable from robbery….
Since 1994, about 30 motel customers have been arrested on drug-dealing charges. Even if those police figures are accurate — the police have a substantial monetary incentive to exaggerate — these 30 episodes involved less than 5/100ths of 1 percent of the 125,000