The Nation's Criminals Can't Keep Up With The Government's Legalized Theft Programs

from the the-only-solution-is-a-more-productive-criminal-element dept

The Institute for Justice has released its latest report on asset forfeiture. Despite some recent legislative attempts to add a much-needed conviction requirement to the seizure of property, most of the country still allows law enforcement to proceed under the assumption that money, vehicles and houses are "guilty," even if those they take this property from are, for all intents and purposes, innocent.

The absence of this key factor has resulted in decades of nationwide abuse. The IJ's updated chart ranking states' asset forfeiture policies on an A-F scale shows only one A rating: New Mexico. The state's recent passage of significant asset forfeiture reform is the only highlight in the report. The rest of the nation continues on its path of underachievement, preferring to defer to law enforcement's best judgment on how to fight the Drug War. (While also occasionally used to target fraud and organized crime, forfeiture programs are now mostly deployed to take money from people/vehicles that smell like marijuana.)


The largest amount of resistance to asset forfeiture reform efforts come from the agencies that benefit most from the liquidation of seized property.


The highest grades correspond directly to states where local agencies have the least to gain from seized assets. Unsurprisingly, removing the incentive to simply take money/property has resulted in less abuse of forfeiture programs.

But these (few) speed bumps have done next to nothing to slow the asset forfeiture machine. It's been on a downhill roll since the late 80s, resulting in $12.6 seized at the federal level from 1989 to 2010. Since 2010, though, the year-to-year increases have been exponential. In 2014 alone, US Attorneys "forfeited" $4.5 billion. This dollar amount now places federal law enforcement at the top of the list of of "People Who Take Stuff That Belongs To Others."
According to the FBI, the total amount of goods stolen by criminals in 2014 burglary offenses suffered an estimated $3.9 billion in property losses. This means that the police are now taking more assets than the criminals.
Of course, there are several legitimate (i.e., tied to convictions) forfeitures included in that amount, whereas no burglary can ever be considered "legitimate." And, as the DOJ points out, some recent sizable seizures have produced gaudy forfeiture numbers.
A Justice Department spokesman pointed out that big cases, like the $1.7 billion Bernie Madoff judgment and a $1.2 billion case associated with Toyota, have led to large deposits to forfeiture funds in a single year.
So, there are mitigating factors in this law enforcement-to-criminals comparison, but that doesn't mean asset forfeiture programs are largely "right" or free from abuse. The federal government has argued it has the right to seize even "untainted" funds and a majority of cash seizures -- especially at the local level -- don't rise to "drug kingpin" levels. As was noted, when Washington, DC moved forward with asset forfeiture reform, its local police force more resembled pathetic stickup men than the dismantlers of drug empires.
In addition, the bill sets other limits. Vehicles may not be seized unless "clear and convincing evidence" exists that they were used in the commission of a crime. Cash amounts under $1,000 would be presumed "innocent," i.e., not subject to forfeiture. This stipulation cuts to the heart of the DC PD's abuse of asset forfeiture -- more than half of its $5.5 million in cash seizures were for less than $141, with over 1,000 of the 12,000 seizures being for less than $20.
Further watering down the comparison is this depressing fact: in asset forfeiture, the government (both local and federal) tends to place the burden of proof on the former owners of seized property. Arrested burglars, however, are given the Constitutional benefit of a doubt (presumed innocent) when they end up in court.

Filed Under: asset forfeiture, civil asset forfeiture, crime, legalized theft, police


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 24 Nov 2015 @ 4:32am

    Dumb vs Smart

    As the numbers pretty clearly show...

    Dumb criminals steal from people at gun-point, and suffer penalties when they get caught.

    Smart criminals steal from people at badge-point, and face no penalties at all when they get 'caught'.

    If you want to rob someone, get a badge first, as it doubles as a 'Get out of jail/trial free' card.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 24 Nov 2015 @ 5:02am

    "911, please state the nature of the emergency."

    "I'm being robbed! Please send someone!"

    "Can you describe the thief?"

    "Yes, one's wearing a police uniform and the other an expensive suit. They're claiming 'civil forfeiture'. Help!"

    "I'm sorry, sir, but 911 cannot assist you with your request. There's no one to police the police and the prosecuting attorney has a financial gain here. You're fucked, so just bend over and deal with it. Have a nice day."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Nov 2015 @ 6:19am

    "The Nation's Criminals Can't Keep Up With The Government's Legalized Theft Programs"

    Neither can the law abiding citizens!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Nov 2015 @ 6:21am

    "...resulting in $12.6 seized at the federal level from 1989 to 2010."

    Was the total amount seized through asset forfeiture between 1989 and 2010 really only $12.60? (Or is this supposed to be $12.6B?)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Nov 2015 @ 6:30am

    With all the conflict of interest hoops that government contractors are required to jump through, one might think that it is a well regulated issue within government ... Ha! That would be wrong.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    BentFranklin (profile), 24 Nov 2015 @ 7:01am

    In the 1980s we passed forfeiture laws to battle the largest criminals but look where we are now. If you want to know how the special powers we're giving government to battle terrorism will end up, just look at this program.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 25 Nov 2015 @ 12:12am

      Re:

      In the 1980s we passed forfeiture laws to battle the largest criminals but look where we are now.

      Now all we need to do to battle the largest criminals is rescinding the forfeiture laws. Too bad that they won't let us.

      And that's why we have a Bill of Rights and why it was a bad idea to ignore it. Any genie you let out of that bottle has an agenda to stay outside.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Quiet Lurcker, 24 Nov 2015 @ 7:24am

    @Tim Cushing:

    Cloak it how they will; use what language they will; civil asset forfeiture is neither more nor less than legalized theft.

    PERIOD.

    There is and can be no excuse for this behavior.

    There is and can be no 'mitigation' of this behavior.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 24 Nov 2015 @ 3:43pm

      Armed robbery!

      Cloak it how they will; use what language they will; civil asset forfeiture is neither more nor less than legalized theft.

      I prefer the term "armed robbery". Call it what it really is.

      It's just incredible that anyone can justify confiscating less than $200 cash from somebody on the pretext of drug crime. Who keeps voting in these "tough on crime", "war on drugs" politicians? Don't these politicians give one hoot what their stupid laws result in?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Nov 2015 @ 7:33am

    Cash amounts under $1,000 would be presumed "innocent," i.e., not subject to forfeiture.

    In other words, cash amounts under $1000 will be seized on charges of deliberately circumventing law enforcement by knowing and following the law. If the IRS can do it, and Aereo can lose court cases on it, then why can't we?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 24 Nov 2015 @ 8:24am

      Re:

      The whole concept of cash or other inanimate objects being "guilty" is absurd on it's face. Even the idea of "presumed guilty" goes against everything this country was founded upon.

      Another example of "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 24 Nov 2015 @ 8:50am

        Re: Re:

        I don't think "good intentions" were ever a factor in the types of forfeitures. It was always about bringing more cash to the cops.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          David, 24 Nov 2015 @ 9:41am

          Re: Re: Re:

          The "Good Intentions" was to do something about the drug lords smuggling pot, cocaine, heroin, and other drugs into the US, along with much of the other violent crime that goes with them. But over time, it's like "free money!"

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            John Fenderson (profile), 24 Nov 2015 @ 3:22pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I disagree. Those were the reasons for public consumption, but not the actual reasons. If they were the actual reasons, then convictions would be required to keep the cash, and the money would not go directly to the cops.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Oblate (profile), 4 Dec 2015 @ 8:25am

      Re:

      If cash can be a "person" now, and if smaller groups of cash are innocent, isn't charging a larger collection a violation of the first amendment? They are restricting the right of the cash "peaceably to assemble".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Nov 2015 @ 8:22am

    when your budget gets cut just start stealing from the public instead of waiting for their tax dollars to fund your illegal operations

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Nov 2015 @ 10:34am

    A government that taxes the public and doesn't serve public interests is stealing from the public.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Nov 2015 @ 11:09am

    I fail to see the difference...

    Further watering down the comparison is this depressing fact: in asset forfeiture, the government (both local and federal) tends to place the burden of proof on the former owners of seized property. Arrested burglars, however, are given the Constitutional benefit of a doubt (presumed innocent) when they end up in court.


    So on the one hand, a burglar is presumed innocent until theft is proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
    On the other hand, the police officer is presumed innocent until theft is proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Where's the difference, other than that one of them gets to say "see, it's all legal?"

    In both situations, the citizens' property is gone, and not likely to be recovered.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Nov 2015 @ 11:11am

      Re: I fail to see the difference...

      I wonder how long it'll be before burglars start claiming "it's not burglary! The stuff was guilty! I was merely disposing of it for the courts!"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 24 Nov 2015 @ 7:14pm

      Re: I fail to see the difference...

      On the other hand, the police officer is presumed innocent until theft is proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

      Ah, but you see, in an armed robbery at badge-point/'asset forfeiture' case, the officer(s) involved aren't the ones on trial, the stolen property is, and it is automatically assumed to be guilty. It's up to the former owner of said property to prove otherwise if they want to recover their stuff.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anon, 24 Nov 2015 @ 1:23pm

    Yes, but...

    Does Madoff's billion really count as an asset forfeiture/seizure? Presumably, it went to reimburse his victims (pennies on the dollar) not to buy more hummers and machine guns for the local law enforcement.

    ... or did the cops get a "finder's fee" for finally stumbling onto what was apparently the most obvious pyramid rip-off in decades?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pseudonym, 24 Nov 2015 @ 3:30pm

    Told you...

    I told you that the public sector could be more efficient at some things than private industry.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Justme, 24 Nov 2015 @ 7:27pm

    Maybe to simplistic. . .

    If they are funding their departments with money found guilty of a crime, aren't they running a corrupt organization under the RICO act??

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 25 Nov 2015 @ 3:07am

      Re: Maybe to simplistic. . .

      Money is fungible. When it passes from the control of bad people into the control of good people, it becomes innocent of any crime as long as you don't have to give it back.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    WARNING, 2 Mar 2017 @ 10:50am

    PATH OF THIS COUNTRIES FUTURE

    FREEDOM of the press "THe First Amendment" Is Unconstitutional according to Donald Trump (and therefore the "FREEDOM Caucus"(Who he really represents) forMALLY THE tea Party (Fourrteen US Congressmen)Undo Everything OBAMA DID. then Begin undoing ALL US CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS OF "THE FORGOTTON MAN" OR (The semblence of freedom that remains) The UNITED STATES MUST ACHEIVE PARITY WITH THE COMMUNIST BLOCK COUNTRIES CAUSE "the forgotton man IS BEST TOTALLY
    fORGOTTON,ha,ha now IF HE HAS A NET WORTH OF ! bIllion us $$ we'LL CONSIDER him.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    yemen, 26 Jul 2017 @ 7:04am

    Freedom of the world

    To all the peoples of the world
    Stand with the indigenous people of the occupied West in what is called America as the call of Australia

    Freedom of the world begins to bring down the United Nations and its resolutions since its inception

    To all the inhabitants of the occupied continents under the lie of the discovery of America

    First, it must strike at the so-called United Nations and all its resolutions
    Because they were founded to protect the murderer from prosecution

    To the inhabitants of the Far West who were colonized by the colonizer
    They are the owners of history, civilization and land occupied under the lie of discovery
    Is occupation of the land owned by people is called discovery
    I hope that all of the Aboriginals belonged to the three continents that were named North America, South America and Australia
    I can read these books and then you can respond to us with any response you consider the response of men who have blood and others
    If you find that I am sad for a people who have been killed and seek punishment from the murderer
    So I carry a weapon and liberate the land and the ruler who killed people and stole the identity and civilization and history and must be one line from the north of the continent to the far south
    You will not be defeated and you are the owners of a cause forgotten by the world and called murder and occupation discovery

    Read. Then take your weapon and liberate the land from the European colonization that imposes immigration. People of the world come to your land to form a people. It is illegal and prevents the original people of the land from acting in your land and making walls and armies to kill you

    Canadian writer
    William Carr
    Theft of a Nation. Pdf
    - Pawns in the game (stones on the chessboard). Pdf
    - Jews .. behind every crime. Pdf
    Satan rules the world. Pdf
    Red fog rising sky of America

    http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llrd&fileName=009/llrd009.db&recNum=376

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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