Imagine police officers showing up to your house at night and demanding the keys to your car, threatening to damage it if you don’t comply.1 They don’t provide you with an explanation or even accuse you of committing a crime. Then imagine waiting five years for the mere chance to get your car back. Sound dystopian? This is exactly what happened to a woman in Massachusetts in 2015. Police seized her car because her son, who was facing drug charges, had borrowed it. The police did not even allege that her son had used the car to sell drugs. Further, officials waited until October 2020 to provide her with the notice required for her to start legal proceedings to recover the vehicle they took.2
Unfortunately, cases like hers are common.3 Federal, state, and local governments in the United States use a process called civil asset forfeiture to seize citizens’ property. Often, the owners have done nothing wrong; one study found that 80 percent of those whose property was seized were never charged with a crime.4 In civil asset forfeiture cases, charges are leveled against the objects seized, not their owners.5 Such objects include money, weapons, cars, homes, and businesses. . . .
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1. Malinda Harris and Stephen Silverman, “Opinion: I’m a Grandmother, Not a Drug Lord. Why Can Police Take My Property?,” USA Today, March 10, 2021.
2. Jacob Sullum, “After the Cops Seized Her Car, the Government Waited Five Years Before Giving Her a Chance to Get It Back,” Reason, March 2, 2021, https://reason.com/2021/03/02/after-cops-seized-her-car-the-government-waited-five-years-before-giving-her-a-chance-to-get-it-back/.
3. “Read the Stories of Civil Asset Forfeiture Victims,” American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, March 2, 2016, https://www.aclunc.org/article/read-stories-civil-asset-forfeiture-victims.
4. Kyla Dunn, “Reining in Forfeiture: Common Sense Reform in the War on Drugs,” PBS Frontline, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/drugs/special/forfeiture.html.
5. “Asset Forfeiture,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/white-collar-crime/asset-forfeiture.
6. Victor Riches and Paul Avelar, “When Government Steals Your Property: A Goldwater Institute Event about Civil Asset Forfeiture,” Goldwater Institute, February 25, 2021 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zp1gC-_BRM.
7. Michael Sallah, Robert O’Harrow Jr., Steven Rich, and Gabe Silverman, “Stop and Seize,” Washington Post, September 6, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/2014/09/06/stop-and-seize/.
8. Emma Andersson, “The Supreme Court Didn’t Put the Nail in Civil Asset Forfeiture’s Coffin,” American Civil Liberties Union blog, March 15, 2019, https://www.aclu.org/blog/criminal-law-reform/reforming-police/supreme-court-didnt-put-nail-civil-asset-forfeitures.
9. Lisa Knepper, Jennifer McDonald, Kathy Sanchez, and Elyse Smith Pohl, “Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture,” 3rd ed., Institute for Justice, December 2020, https://ij.org/wp-content/themes/ijorg/images/pfp3/policing-for-profit-3-web.pdf.
10. Riches and Avelar, “When Government Steals Your Property.”
11. Knepper, McDonald, Sanchez, and Pohl, “Policing for Profit.”.
12. “Here’s a Brief History of Civil Asset Forfeiture,” Morgan & Morgan Law Firm, November 22, 2017, https://www.forthepeople.com/blog/heres-brief-history-civil-asset-forfeiture/.
13. Shawn Kantor, Carl Kitchens, and Steven Pawlowski, “Civil Asset Forfeiture, Crime, and Police Incentives: Evidence from the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984,” National Bureau of Economic Research, September 2017, https://www.nber.org/papers/w23873.
14. William Freivogel, “No Drugs, No Crime and Just Pennies for School: How Police Use Civil Asset Forfeiture,” Pulitzer Center, February 18, 2019, https://pulitzercenter.org/stories/no-drugs-no-crime-and-just-pennies-school-how-police-use-civil-asset-forfeiture#:~:text=Most%20of%20the%20money%20seized,and%20even%20a%20margarita%20maker.
15. John Locke and Robert Filmer, Two Treatises on Civil Government: Preceded by Robert Filmer (Abingdon, England: George Routledge and Sons, 1884), 204.
16. Knepper, McDonald, Sanchez, and Pohl, “Policing for Profit.”.
17. “Asset Forfeiture,” Federal Bureau of Investigation.
18. “Learn about the Impact of Civil Asset Forfeiture,” National Police Accountability Project, https://www.nlg-npap.org/civil-asset-forfeiture/#:~:text=Departments%20now%20routinely%20seize%2020,are%20entitled%20to%20use%20after; Freivogel, “No Drugs, No Crime.”.
19. Freivogel, “No Drugs, No Crime.”.
20. Erin Fuchs, “How a Small, Family-Owned Company Taught Cops around America to Seize Millions in Cash,” Business Insider, October 16, 2014, https://www.businessinsider.com/how-desert-snow-trained-americas-cops-2014-10?r=US&IR=T; Sallah, O’Harrow, Rich, and Silverman, “Stop and Seize.”.
21. Freivogel, “No Drugs, No Crime.”.
22. Mark Gius, “The Effects of Civil and Criminal Forfeitures on Drug-Related Arrests,” Justice Policy Journal 15, no. 1 (Spring 2018): 1.
23. Brian D. Kelly, “Fighting Crime or Raising Revenue? Testing Opposing Views of Forfeiture,” Institute for Justice, June 2019, https://ij.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Fighting-Crime-or-Raising-Revenue.pdf.
24. Nick Sibilla, “When New Mexico Abolished Civil Forfeiture 5 Years Ago, Cops Predicted Crime Would Soar. It Didn’t.” Forbes, December 17, 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicksibilla/2020/12/17/when-new-mexico-abolished-civil-forfeiture-5-years-ago-cops-predicted-crime-would-soar-it-didnt/?sh=293fc9ae2729.
25. Ian MacDougall, “Police Say Seizing Property without Trial Helps Keep Crime Down. A New Study Shows They’re Wrong,” ProPublica, December 14, 2020, https://www.propublica.org/article/police-say-seizing-property-without-trial-helps-keep-crime-down-a-new-study-shows-theyre-wrong.
26. Sibilla, “When New Mexico Abolished Civil Forfeiture.”.
27. “Bill Status Inquiry for HB2810,” Arizona State Legislature, accessed March 15, 2021, https://apps.azleg.gov/BillStatus/BillOverview/76007.
28. Jenna Bentley, “Goldwater’s Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Moves Forward,” In Defense of Liberty blog, February 17, 2021, https://indefenseofliberty.blog/2021/02/17/az-legislature-moves-to-stop-government-theft-of-private-property/.
29. Nick Sibilla, “Wyoming Bans Roadside Waivers Used to Seize Cash on Highways,” Institute for Justice, March 19, 2018, https://ij.org/press-release/wyoming-bans-roadside-waivers-used-seize-cash-highways/.