A recent study released by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leading public interest law firm, calls into question a number of justifications for civil asset forfeiture. Contrary to claims by law enforcement, seizing property from criminal suspects does not appear to meaningfully reduce crime rates or lessen drug use. Far from being used to fight major drug traffickers, civil asset forfeiture is usually deployed against the poor and people of color.
With so many states legalizing marijuana, you might think that the urgency to enforce marijuana laws is waning. After all, states wouldn't be legalizing if they were still convinced that marijuana's effects were as dangerous as those of other drugs.
Did you know that your property can be seized simply because you have been accused of a certain crime? You don't even have to be convicted. When police decide your money or property is connected to criminal activity, they can seize it in what is called a civil forfeiture proceeding.
The use of civil forfeitures has been called "policing for profit." The civil forfeiture process usually begins when someone is charged with a crime, either at the state or federal level. At that point, police and prosecutors may find that some of the defendant's money or property is connected to criminal activity. In essence, the prosecutor charges these valuables with being connected to or the proceeds of crime. The defendant bears the burden of proving that they were not. If the defendant fails to prove that, the police and prosecutor's office get to seize the money and property permanently -- even if the defendant has not yet been convicted of any crime.