Asset Forfeiture Abuse

Radley Balko reports on fairly severe asset forfeiture abuse in Wisconsin. In short, after a woman’s son was arrested, the police told her she had to pay for his bail in cash (which was untrue). Then, when she showed up with the money, most of which she had just withdrawn from ATMs, the police seized the money under the state’s asset forfeiture law because a drug-sniffing dog detected traces of drugs on the money. Even with the help of an attorney, it took four months for the woman to get her money back. It’s bad enough that this sort of abuse is constitutional. It’s even worse that Wisconsin law enforcement would act this way.

UPDATE: Speaking of asset forfeiture abuse, George Will had a column last week on another disturbing case.

SECOND UPDATE: Given Ilya’s post above, I thought I’d add a slight clarification. When I wrote that asset forfeiture is “constitutional” as currently practiced, I meant this as shorthand for “constitutional under existing Supreme Court doctrine.” Like Ilya, I am quite sympathetic to the dissenters in Bennis v. Michigan, and suspect much civil asset forfeiture would transgress a proper application of the due process clause, though I have not delved sufficiently deeply into this area to have a more fully-formed view on the limits the due process clause places on asset forfeiture. That many current practices are outrageous does not necessarily mean that they are unconstitutional.

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