Civil Forfeiture has been a subject that has recently caught my intention. As I understand it, Civil forfeiture allows Law Enforcement Officers to confiscate items and money that you have in your possession based on a suspicion of “wrong doing.” The most difficult issue I have encountered when researching the subject, is who is making the decision on what personal items should be confiscated. What qualifies these individuals, officers, to make the judgement that these personal items were obtained illegally. Finally, the channels for recourse are so difficult that the thought of redeeming your property is almost non-existent.
Civil forfeiture laws were introduced and passed after the September 11 attacks. The intention of the law was to stop terrorist organizations revenues in the States, the outcome however was far from this. When an individual has their property seized, the individual may or may not be charged with a crime. This fact is outrageous. Law enforcement believes that the property has been gained or is being moved for illegal means but, they don’t believe that the individual should be prosecuted. After property is seized the individuals it was seized from must hire an attorney in order to attempt to get their property back. Since, we know that very few people have the finances to hire an attorney, most of these forfeiture’s end up being lost to law enforcement. After property is seized, most police departments are allowed to keep up to 100% of the seized goods. This “free for all” causes officers to have lapses in judgement because they understand that this money will be used in their precinct. John Oliver cites several cases that show this lapse in judgement, such as; the Tennessee police officer who intentionally left out a fact, that the man he had seized money from, was on his way to buy a vehicle. When asked why this information was left out of his report, the officer responded “I don’t know.” This law has turned into something very ugly, officers are now seizing property from average citizens, in the hope that the victims will not be able to get this money back from prosecutors and as a result, the officers will eventually be able to keep this money. Officers no longer distinguish between innocent and guilty, they only find ways to be able to keep the property from its owners. Regulation must be put into place to remove these funds from law enforcement’s possession. If cities allocated how seized property proceeds were spent, I believe there would be a decrease in forfeitures from innocent citizens. Police would no longer have a motivation to seize property from citizens that they, police, didn’t believe committed any crimes. If police were certain that the funds or individuals were in the process of committing a crime they would be more inclined to seize that property. Finally, amendments to this law should be put into place, such as; the person that the property is being seized from must also be prosecuted whether civilly or criminally before their property is forfeited.