John Oliver Takes On The US Government's Legalized Theft Programs, Asset Seizure And Civil Asset Forfeiture

from the due-process?-never-heard-of-it dept

“Last Week Tonight’s” John Oliver is again taking an entertaining swing at a subject that has made its way into Techdirt’s pages: asset seizure and forfeiture. Going beyond the “robbery at badgepoint” (Cory Doctorow’s term) to civil asset forfeiture (in which the government files suit against property that is presumed guilty of criminal ties), Oliver is his usual entertaining self while still managing to highlight the obscene depths these programs — started with the intent of breaking up criminal enterprises and returning assets to those defrauded, etc. — have sunk, thanks to the perversion of incentives.

The highlights are a law enforcement official sheepishly explaining (in a public hearing) that there is really no oversight or discretion involved in the spending of seized funds. (He flat out states that it’s used to buy “toys” the department “needs.”) This leads directly to a police department being called out by a citizen (in another public meeting) for purchasing booze and a margarita machine with seized funds.

Also fun (but in a rather twisted way) is the names of suits brought by the US against “guilty” property, including United States v. Article Consisting of 50,000 Cardboard Boxes More or Less, Each Containing One Pair of Clacker Balls. You can find several others simply by running a search at Justia. (This also happens at state level, so additional searching uncovers gems like this one: South Dakota vs. Fifteen Impounded Cats.)

Anything that brings more attention to this issue is welcome. Oliver’s take allows for a rather painless digestion of the issue while still refusing to underplay how thoroughly corrupted the ideal has become, thanks mainly to policies that allow those seizing the property to directly benefit from the seizures. As to a solution, Oliver suggests two things: an overhaul of this system and rigorous oversight or (the easier route) changing TV procedurals to more accurately reflect law enforcement activities — like the cuffing and frisking houses, furniture, etc.

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Comments on “John Oliver Takes On The US Government's Legalized Theft Programs, Asset Seizure And Civil Asset Forfeiture”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The same logic that makes people believe a right to abortion or same sex marriage or constitutional protections for non-citizens…

Just applied in the opposite direction. Instead of make believe rights for citizens its make believe powers for government!

Corrupt Demtards and corrupt Repukes… Like I always say… both are looking to push their beliefs on you and enslave you with them. The left does it through Secular Dogma and the right does it through Religious Dogma.

Both are pro big business!

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The original logic actually made sense: seizing property that was gained as a direct result of the crime committed. The rationale is twofold: you are not allowed to profit from crime, and the property was illegally obtained and so isn’t really yours to begin with.

The real problem is that property is seized that is unrelated to the crime or, increasingly often, in the absence of a crime altogether.

Anonymous Coward says:

Just the right amount.

What I enjoy about Jon and John especially is that they hit the right spot in outrage, right between laughing at the insanity of it all and pulling your hair out of your head while shouting.
I consider them greater sources of news because unlike most of the other people in the journalist industry, they are not afraid to call out clear bullshit where they see it.

alternatives() says:

Re: Re:

keep hitting home runs.

If one is going to use baseball to speak of this:

In the case of last week they have the time to spend picking what ball they are going to attempt to hit then have the ability to observe the flight path of that ball, figure out at what speed and placement that bat needs to be to connect to the ball to make the home run.

And because we are using baseball – the time machine they have is mentioned in the title of the show “Last Week”. Because of the time machine and ability to pick what ball they intend to strike means they look damn good when they take the swing.

Next up will be the web site dedicated to the Last Week drinking game where the next show’s topic is guessed at along with the highpoints for that topic. After the C&D letter the site will be revamped and stop being called John’s next week to A reason for College Kids to keep being drunk after the football games.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

They’re allowed to do this because they throw comedy in without a lot of anger….although Stewart used to call “camera 3” a lot more often during the Bush administration and have massive (real, non-bullshit, ie Glenn Beck) outrage where the crowd would stay very silent while he had those moments. He still pulls “Camera 3’s” but nowhere as often, he seems disillusioned since a couple years, especially since the Democrats lost congress, 1)because they didn’t repeal Bush era unconstitutional laws and unjustified increasing Police State. They didn’t even re-join the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, something extremely dangerous which means that since 2002 both NATO’s and Russia’s nuclear warfare policy is now SUCCESSFUL FIRST STRIKE.

I can understand him, and I don’t have much faith in the democrats doing real good in mid-terms, only old people vote in mid terms, so that means mostly incumbents staying where they are and more taking over of Congress, and god help us, if the Republicans take the Senate, I hope Obama will write 10 Executive Orders a day. Not that I like him particularly, but he’s better than this “let’s-block-all-of-Obama’s-ideas” congress (that’s not even pushing it, it IS their official policy, Boehner was going to agree with Obama on Immigration Reform, said he would after Obama spoke of it a couple hours later. The next day the batshit tea partiers forced his hand and he said the complete opposite and that he won’t work with this President.

I mean ffs, the US is in decline, a decline so massive it’s hard to do nothing but laugh about it. Russia has more of a good looking future (if the NATO doesn’t start a war with it, which I repeat, is official policy, the coup d’état orchestrated in Washington in Ukraine to topple a democratically elected leader supporting protesters who armed themselves with molotov cocktails and GUNS to confront a riot control police told to STAND DOWN and not to shoot at the protesters with live ammunition. And using neo-nazis that worship the nazi collaborator of occupied Nazi Ukraine back in ww2, (Bandor? or something, forgot the name) is just to provoke russia, and Russia said fine, but we’re taking back what was always part of Russia, Crimea. Afterall, a non existing country (USSR) gave the Ukraine SSR Crimea in the 50’s…

The whole Bush policy of encircling Russia with missile shields to protect Europe and Israel from “Iran”….yeah right, it’s to protect against Russian retaliation in case NATO decides to take down the current or close future leaders of Russia and bring it in the Globalization Crew or else…Then people suspect Russia shot down the Polish flight that contained the majority of the Polish government flying to Moscow to talk, after Poland signed a treaty with the US to install anti-missile shields there. Putin was going to punish Poland one way or another (Poland is the country right now that’s the most active in pushing for crazy policies regarding Russia.

Case in point, everything Obama spoke of in 2008 to become President was all bullshit, his own parties’ congress didn’t undo the Bush policies that are bringing humanity close to a precipice it will never be able to climb out of.

Funny how in 2005 I decided to watch CNN kinda late at night (around 11h30 pm) and Anderson Cooper was interviewing this brand new senator from the 2004 elections and saying how he could be the first black president! And no matter how Obama tried to play down the Coop’s flattery, it’s about when he became the media darling, well on CNN…we get this one on basic cable in Canada, but i’m sure msnbc did interviews with him early on. I’m starting to believe that Presidents are chosen in advance…the Law was twisted and stopped being applied to let Bush win in 2000 and voting machines made by Diebold were rigged to make Bush win….Diebold is based in Ohio, search the internet for something like Diebold CEO is dedicated to giving Bush the presidency in 2004….he literally said that at a republican convention where he was invited.

They’re comedians with a lot of knowledge we don’t know about. John Oliver is foreign so he has even less problems with discussing serious shit like this.Cops stealing people’s money for no valid reason…and some people doubt Cops are the largest organized crime organization in the world…

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Ah, but that’s where the fun part comes in though, as noted in the video, with asset forfeiture, the person isn’t the accused party, the property is. And ‘it’ is assumed guilty by default, unless you can somehow prove it’s not been used in, or related to, any crimes. ‘Guilty until proven innocent’ basically.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

In fact the constitution specifically forbids this sort of behavior to prevent exactly what ends up happening in other countries that don’t have these protections … law enforcement finding any excuse to seize property often for their personal benefit (or for the benefit of their ‘department’ ie: for luxury or excessive items at work which amounts to personal benefit and reckless spending of seized property). The constitution is being badly eroded and we are quickly turning into (or have long turned into) what the constitution sought to prevent us from turning into.

These protections were placed in the constitution because the founding fathers know, from experience and our knowledge of the history of various countries, what governments end up doing without these sorts of protections. They end up creating way too many laws so that you can’t avoid breaking the law. They end up searching and confiscating your property without cause or accountability as to what happens to that property after it is confiscated. The property/proceeds ends up going into a ‘black hole’ where it effectively ends up in the pockets of various government officials/politicians.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

and they end up confiscating property based on what more they would like their department to have (or for them to personally have). I don’t see how this isn’t a conflict of interest.

but this is what the entire war on drugs creates. More laws that are potentially broken so there could be more reason to confiscate money/property. and now there is more fear of carrying money because it could be confiscated under the arbitrary suspicion of a law enforcement department that has a vested interest in taking your money.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

They pulled this shit with the KKK, everyone though it was cool, they did this same shit with Al Capone… everyone thought that was cool too.

The people in power got wise… these foolish American will let us do anything to people they ‘think’ are bad. We can take control of them by making laws that target bad guys that just so happen to make it real easy for us to screw’em real good. All we have to do it just take it slow!

We didn’t feel at thing! The police state is here, its not very bad because the police have in fact been more nice than mean with the enormous amount of power we just let them TAKE!

Another Anonymous Coward says:

Fight Fire With Fire

Turn it on it’s head. Next time some citizen wins a case against the police, seize the department’s car, or weapon, or whatever. “Citizen vs. one Glock automatic”

Better yet, grab the mayor’s stuff, police chief’s stuff, DA’s stuff, etc. See how soon they yell for the forfeiture laws to be overturned.

Zonker says:

Re: Fight Fire With Fire

They don’t wait until a case is won to seize property, they do so immediately upon accusation of a crime. The property is not returned until the defendant wins their case, which typically takes several years to accomplish, and even then they don’t always get it all back in its original condition.

So to be fair, seize the department’s property on every complaint/lawsuit filed and don’t return it unless and until the department is cleared of all wrongdoing after final appeals.

Rekrul says:

The problem is that too many people don’t believe that cops are actually like this. The Canadian government recently issued a warning that any Canadian traveling to the US shouldn’t take any large amounts of cash because it might be seized by the police. My friend who live in Canada didn’t believe this was actually happening until I sent her a link to a Washington Post story on it.

My friend up the road thinks that only a few corrupt cops do this and that they’re swiftly dealt with. And if your money or car is ever taken, you just show up to court with the appropriate documentation and the court apologizes and hands your stuff back to you.

Of course he also thinks that if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear from the police.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Canadian cops, in most provinces, have to do 3 years of college in “Police Technics” before even having the right to show their face to academia. Their time in college includes Calc I, so if they didn’t take Advanced Maths in grade 11 and 12, their time in college is extended because they’ll be doing those while in college.

It’s sort of a “filter-the-retards” kind of thing, it happens in most college programs, but normally it’s in the 4th semester where classes unrelated to what you are studying but forced to take, can take you down/slow down your progress, not including all the mandatory Philosophy(3), English (2 or 4), French(2 or 4) and Phys Ed(3) and those unrelated classes (2).

That stuff managed to slow me down too, had great difficulty beating French II and III and I’m half english, half-french, had no problems with the unrelated to your program classes or phys ed, you have a large list and make a top 3 of what you would want to be in.

I think the mandatory Philosophy and Maths gives us better cops, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get crooked along the way.

Oh and I’m speaking of guys who want to be municipal or Provincial (like state troopers) cops….and only the important provinces have Provincial Cops, the rest of Canada is ruled over by the Mounties, and you only need a high school diploma and to pass their academia to get in…that’s why I hate the prairies, idiots who are forcing the abomination called Harper on the rest of us all.

Anonymous Coward says:

The idea of civil asset forfeiture was dreamed up during the height of the 1980s Cocaine Drug Wars. We were assured that these draconian new police powers would be used only against the worst of the worst; drug kingpins and organized crime bosses. We were told that this was the only way to fight these drug lords who were swimming in cash, drove the most expensive cars made, could afford to hire the best lawyers in the country, and knew how to work the legal system to the point that they were virtually untouchable.

As a necessary tool to fight the illicit drug trade sweeping the country at the time, we were all promised that Civil forfeiture would only ever be used against them, not us.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“We were assured that these draconian new police powers would be used only against the worst of the worst; drug kingpins and organized crime bosses.”

Yep, I remember that. I also remember some other things:

When seat belt laws were introduced, we were promised that failure to wear a seat belt would never be the reason you got pulled over, it would just be an “add-on” ticket if you were being cited for something else.

When the Taser was introduced, we were promised that it would only be used in cases where a gun would otherwise have been needed. It would never be used as the go-to tool for “enforcing compliance” or to torture.

When police policies that it’s OK to search cell phones came about, we were told that this power would never be used only in specific circumstances, not used to copy the information from everybody that the police detain.

I can go on and on and on with examples like this. This is one of the biggest examples of why we should be extremely cautious about giving the police any additional powers whatsoever.

stop_government_theft says:

Government Theft and crimes.

When the government “steal” assets, the “victim”/owner of the property is not sued directly, their assets are. For example, the case might be “People of New York VS 2013 Dodge 1500”, or “People of California VS $52,145”. If they’re going to use that kind of logic, then when people commit crimes like armed robbery, the weapon should be arrested & tried, & not the person who used it.

Joe (profile) says:


The rules of the game for seizures that the government local state and federal have to follow Are the following

Government (state and federal) are required to send written notice to interested parties, such notice shall be sent in a manner of no more than 60 days after the date of seizure.
If before the 60 days period expires the Government does not file a civil judicial forfeiture action but does obtain a criminal indictment containing an allegation that the property is subject to forfeiture.

**If the government does not send a notice of seizure of property in accordance with a 60 day notice and no extension of time has been granted the government shall return all properties
to that person without prejudice to the right of the government not to commerce a forfeiture proceeding at a later day.

Burden of Proof

In a suit or action brought under any civil forfeiture statute for the civil forfeiture of any any property

*The burden of proof is on the government to establish by a PREPONDERANCE OF EVIDENCE that the property is subject to forfeiture.

If the court finds that the forfeiture is grossly disproportion to the offense it shall reduce or climate the forfeiture as necessary to a avoid a

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