The Institute for Justice has condemned civil forfeiture laws as one of the most serious assaults on personal property in our nation. What makes these laws especially bad is that police officers can seize personal property even if no one is charged with a crime.
Donley notes that it is important to distinguish between civil forfeiture and criminal forfeiture. In a criminal forfeiture situation, the property may be seized only after its owner has been found guilty of a crime. On the other hand, in a civil forfeiture proceeding, the property itself is the subject of a court ruling. In fact, in a civil forfeiture proceeding, there may never be any criminal charges filed against the owner of the property. And the property is considered to be guilty unless proven innocent.
[Note: Montana and New Mexico are changing their forfeiture laws.]
Civil forfeiture seizures can generate a lot of income for police departments. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office had in one year sized $3.5 million, plus about 250 cars and 440 computers. The money made up 10% of the office’s annual budget.
This is just one instance. There are cases nationwide involving the use of civil forfeiture to convert personal property into public operating funds. The result is a widespread policy of policing for profit.
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