DoJ shuts down asset forfeiture program after Congress slashes its budget

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So they weren’t stealing enough to pay for the program overhead?


If you count thefts by police as unsolved crimes, I wonder what net effect this will end up having on the overall crime rate. Something tells me that a lot of police forces will cut spending on actual policing before they sell off their Maserati patrol cars.


Article says basically that in California, for example, the police will have to do forfeiture under state law where they keep 66% rather than 80% as under the federal law this shut down.

Seems to me the minimum change needed to weaken the incentive to steal stuff is to have all seized assets go into state general revenue, rather than staying with the agency doing the seizing.


Exactly, the conflict of interest is so obvious it hurts.


It continues to completely blow my mind that something so obviously, so explicitly unconstitutional as asset forfeiture has been allowed to exist on both local and federal levels. What the fuck, America - we had a revolution over this very issue!


“This shortsighted decision by Congress will have a significant and immediate impact on the ability of law enforcement agencies throughout the nation to protect their communities and provide their citizens with the services they expect and deserve.” —International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP)

In related news, nanotechnology researchers successfully built a “pico-violin” using stabilized cesium atoms— alas, it was deemed ‘still a bit too big’ for the concerns of the IACP.


law enforcement groups:

“…provide their citizens with the services they expect and deserve”

IOW getting ripped off.


Wait, the feds did something to help us the people for a change?


By ‘us the people’, you mean rich people, right? Poor people don’t have assets to seize, so really the end effect of removing this incentive is almost inevitably to redirect efforts from tackling crimes of the rich, to crimes of the poor.

Merry Christmas.

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In practice, ‘civil forfeiture’ fell much more heavily on ‘the poor’ than their per-seizure value would suggest.

The juiciest individual heists were from people who wouldn’t qualify as poor, since the poor barely have anything worth stealing; but in order to go up against someone who can afford actual legal representation; you need a real case against them. For someone without, you can pretty much just do it.

The same incentives create a preference for cash or movable assets of one flavor or another; and against assets stored as numbers in somebody’s respectable-wealth-management-computer. If you stop some undesireable with $1,000, that’s not much in the grand scheme; but you can just have the K9 ‘indicate’ and wrap the seizure up nice and fast. If you want Merrill Lynch to just go fetch a customer’s assets for you; you are actually going to need something to go on.

The ACLU took a look at Philadelphia and provide a more detailed breakdown: mostly small seizures from people chosen for powerlessness.


Hmm, looking at that page, I dunno.

While the small seizures are numerically more common, it seems clear that the vast majority of the monetary value seized is coming out of large seizures. Looking at Figure 4, if we add together the largest possible amount of money seized out of the first two (smallest amount) categories, that leaves us with $1.05 mil - out of a total of $14 mil. That leaves an average of ~$8600 in assets taken from each of the remaining 1500 cases (that the article rather dubiously lumps together as >$401). The fact that 3/4 of those 1500 claimants that lost over 8 grand, chose not to dispute the seizure suggest the bulk of the money - if not the bulk of the cases - is coming from the relatively well-to-do.

It seems like the small seizures could be trivially shut down from an economic incentives point of view by just imposing a fixed administration fee. Again, they only account for <10% of the full amount.

Or people who (whether by choice or necessity) handle a lot of their cash flow as cash, even if their wealth in assets-minus-debts terms is pretty limited. If you, or your customers, are weakly integrated into the banking system, rent money, buying a car, the cash associated with a small retail operation, etc. can easily amount to some thousands without making you more than tenuously middle class, at most.

Obviously, my objective is not to claim that seizures don’t happen to some reasonably wealthy people(if a drug lord is available, the feds will apply the technique; and I think some Enron related assets may have been civil-forfeited as well); just to note that the process is easy enough that shaking someone down for under $100 is apparently worth doing; and that when much of the cost of challenging the seizure is born by the target, the targets of smaller seizures are attractively unlikely to mount any resistance, much less succeed.

The pitifully low standards of evidence are problematic across the board; but since the process of contesting a seizure is nontrivial, the smaller amounts are effectively win-by-default, while the larger ones at least sometimes are subject to whatever weak process is in place. Civil forfeiture laws just aren’t much of a boon to white collar crime investigations.


I had $6000 dollars seized by cops in California. i t was money i had gotten for selling a car. It took me 3 court appearances and over 6 months to get the money back but I was charged $640 for court costs. What a racket. I did all the work myself because lawyers wanted a minimum of $4000 to represent me. DA kept delaying and saying they needed more time to “investigate” even though i had a letter from the buyer and pictures of the craigslist posting as well as emails between buyer and I . Finally on third court date the judge asked the ADA ( different one each time) if there were any criminal charges pending and when he said no the judge said give the money back. What crooks if i hadn’t stuck to it they would have kept the money.


“Number of people affected” is a much more important consideration than “percentage of total cash seized”.

Despite what is commonly claimed, the value of money is not truly fungible. Seizing a small amount of money from a person living on the edge of subsistence is a much greater harm than seizing a large amount of money from a person with the resources to absorb the loss.

When Rupert Murdoch loses a thousand dollars, he doesn’t even notice; if I lose a thousand dollars, I’m homeless and starving.


history will not look kindly upon that program.


Depends on who ends up writing the history.


Your logic is faulty, because you don’t account for the seized property to be the victims life savings. Can’t contest without a lawyer.


Actually, police seize the assets of non-rich people all the time. They’re the people who are most devastated by these seizures.

Having several thousand dollars in cash in your possession doesn’t mean you’re “rich,” any more than it means that the cash is “drug money.”

Dismissing this problem and the suffering of the victims because they might not be impoverished is exactly what law enforcement would like you to do.


They were protecting the citizenry from ownership of their assets.