Civil Asset Forfeiture

by Project Censored

In the world of the police, which in itself functions much like a business, the most powerful tool of the trade for gaining the capital needed to continue operating is called civil asset forfeiture. Civil asset forfeiture is claiming an object to potentially be involved in a criminal situation, seizing the object, and then taking ownership. For example, in cases of drug sales, the money used to purchase drugs can be confiscated by the police, and then used to pay for expenses that the police department could have acquired. However, civil asset forfeiture can be performed even without trial. People found innocent of crimes against them are oftentimes at risk for having their assets forfeited. When this occurs, the innocent citizen can lose his home, his car, or his life savings. Since 2004, over $1 billion was seized in assets in the United States. These seized assets paid for equipment as well as officers’ salaries. Depending on the states’ individual forfeiture laws, there is a very small window of time that the owner can battle to reclaim his or her lost property. In many instances, the cost of getting a lawyer and a court date outweigh the value of the assets that have been seized, leaving most forfeited assets unchallenged. This can serve as encouragement for officers to unethically seize assets.


“Civil Asset Forfeiture: 7 Things You Should Know,” The Heritage Foundation.

Fred E. Foldvary, “Civil Asset Forfeiture,” The Progress Report, January 9, 2007.CATO Institute

Student Researcher:  Joshua Woods, Indian River State College

Faculty Evaluator:  Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D., Indian River State College

Ethics Alert

It’s often said that the love of money is the root of all evil. But, to be successful in a capitalist world, the love of money isn’t viewed as much of a necessary evil, as it’s viewed as the fuel for the world to continue revolving. With that being said, it’s clear that the police need funding. Local and state police are continually shouldering the growing burden of budget cuts. Officers of the law are no different than anyone else; they too have mouths to feed. But, exactly how is it best to provide the salaries for these officers and pay for their equipment? The easiest thing to do, is very simply, bring in money. This is where civil asset forfeiture comes into play. In its conception, it seems like a perfect idea. But in practice, this perfect idea quickly becomes a double edged sword.

There can be a very fine line between seizing assets, and robbery. Often, to a victim of civil asset forfeiture, the only differences between a mugger and an officer are the badge and the uniform. It isn’t hard to find stories of complete devastation caused to those who wrongly had their property taken. Whole life savings have been confiscated at times. Once police begin to ruin financial security of innocents, the line of what it means to serve and protect isn’t just blurred, it’s completely destroyed.

Assets seized, especially money, go directly to the police. With the officer able to benefit from this, he is no longer just allowed to seize civilian assets, but is indirectly encouraged to do so. No one should ever be in a position where they’re able to benefit from the losses of another’s property, yet the tool of civil asset forfeiture forces this state of encouragement upon the police. The police also shouldn’t be able to keep an asset without first trying someone in a court of law, and then finding the defendant guilty. No one will ever argue that stealing someone’s earned money is right, but then why can we allow our police to do it? This policy needs to be revised to only allow its use if someone is found guilty of a crime. Otherwise, it not only allows abuse, but, in its design, forces it. Again, civil asset forfeiture is performed by police, the same police children are taught to respect and unconditionally trust. This is not to denigrate the police. Many are good men and women who work hard to serve and protect those who can’t defend themselves. But it becomes difficult to put unconditional trust in anyone who has the power, if not the desire, to take what is rightfully yours.

Civil asset forfeiture is a flawed policy, and one that shouldn’t be legally permitted ror the sake of the innocent who need the money they earn, who rely on the cars they drive, and who depend on the homes they live in. Civil asset forfeiture can quickly ignite fear, and rightfully so. It encourages the moral equivalent of theft by those who should be unconditionally trusted. The legislation that allows civil asset forfeiture needs to change so that only assets belonging to those who are found guilty of crimes can be seized.