Explaining the law that lets cops steal your cash and property and keep it

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/11/12/explaining-the-law-that-lets-c.html


I wish someone would try this on the Sackler family. Why rip off some poor immigrant’s car on suspicion of selling weed when you could seize an opioid-dealer’s brand new $23 Million mansion in Bel Air?


You have to pick folks who are too poor to afford a lawyer to fight for them, silly wabbit. Rights are for the rich!


Land of the free …


I’ve never understood how this does not violate the Constitution’s clause against unlawful search and seizure. Does anyone know if any of the cases have trickled up to a Supreme Court ruling?


If I understand the origins of these laws, they were created to seize stuff that had to be illegal, but there was no person to arrest. For example, if cops found a warehouse full of elephant ivory, they could seize the ivory, even if they didn’t know who it belonged to. So there would be a law suit against the PROPERTY, and it would be taken.

So I look at that example and think, “OK, that makes sense.”

Legally, this is an action against the property, not a person, which is why is doesn’t raise a 4th amendment issue. I pile of elephant tusks doesn’t have Constitutional rights, of course! So naturally, as with any system, it gets exploited. Cops can say, “hey, no one walks around with $1000 in cash, so this must be drug money, I’m gonna take it.”

Why courts haven’t clamped down on this obvious exploitation is beyond me. Some states are starting to figure out that there is a problem with the system. I think California has recently tightened up these laws.


This is where one of those billionaires, Peter Thiel comes to mind, might actually do some good. Set up an office of lawyers and take on any case of civil asset forfeiture where the owner is not convicted of a crime and fight it in the courts. He doesn’t have to worry if it costs $10,000 to get $100 back, it’s a matter of principle. Make it unprofitable for cops to seize property.

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In fact the Supreme Court issued a ruling earlier this year on the very subject:

This video is a bit late. The tide of the law has been turning against Civil Asset Forfeiture for a couple of years now. Its days are numbered except in especially racist/authoritarian states that need to use it as a tool against minorities.


The ivory thing makes sense. Similarly if you find an unattended brick of drugs.

But it seems reasonable to make a couple caveats to these kinds of seizure powers:

  • If the material is unattended and the owner can’t be traced that makes sense. But often these stories seem to deal with materials where, not only can the owner be traced, but the owner is in physical possession of the stuff and claimed ownership of it. So, if the police confiscate it, it would seem they’d better have a solid reason.

  • If the material is clearly illegal to own, then confiscation might make sense. But if it is legal to own, then why confiscate it?

  • Or, okay, say the material is legal to own but closely matches the description of something involved in a specific crime. Okay, maybe it would make sense to confiscate as evidence, but there should be additional requirements attached so that:
    1)) The cops have to investigate the material’s provenance in some reasonable period of time.
    2)) If the material can’t be connected to a crime during that time it must be returned to the owner and not sold or re-purposed by law enforcement.


Peter Thiel do something good? WTF have you been smoking?

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Don’t you mean “Wights are for the wich”?

Man, if ONLY I could sic some wights on the Sacklers…among others. Drain the Levels!!


Eh, while the issue is coming up more and more and it is cross-ideological so more likely to get something done about it, it doesn’t really matter what state you’re in, the cops and their bootlickers are still fighting it tooth and nail. If I were to make a war analogy, it’s not 1944, it’s still 1942. As your linked article points out:

[quote]The decision will not halt civil forfeitures, said Wesley P. Hottot, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice, which represented the Land Rover’s owner.

“People are still going to lose their property without being convicted of a crime, they’re still going to have their property seized,” Mr. Hottot said. “The new thing is that they can now say at the end of it all, whether I’m guilty or not, I can argue that it was excessive.”[/quote]

The issue isn’t whether the state can fuck you or not, it’s whether it’s fucking you too hard. :roll_eyes:

But at least awareness of the issue seems to have some momentum.

So I guess you must be referring to the more liberal/progressive states as I don’t see any of them on this list:

S.C. Judge Rules the Obvious: It’s Unconstitutional for Police to Seize and Keep People’s Property Without Proving They Committed Crimes


Operative word is “poor”. Why just immigrants?

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If the Sacklers can still afford lawyers then the cops just aren’t seizing their assets hard enough.


That’s not “civil asset forfeiture,” that’s just seizing contraband and/or collecting evidence.


Because it’s an ‘accomplice’, more or less. They’re not charging the car for having existed, they’re charging the car for having driven you around while you dealt drugs. The cash didn’t do anything wrong except be used in an illegal transaction, but they sure are trying it for that.

CAF makes your head hurt.

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Not that I would count PA as progressive (because Commonwealth), but despite lawsuits in Philly to stop abuses, counties across the state are expanding their use of this practice:


That’s expecting both hard work and personal integrity from pigs. That seems like a wild assumption to make.


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