Major civil forfeiture reforms just took effect in Montana and New Mexico

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Is it still legal for police to toss a grenade into a child’s bed in Montana?


One step at a time, one step at a time…


How about something a bit more … constitutional?

Like “Police may not seize property for longer than 24 hours without the owner being charged with a crime, or the production of a warrant to substantiate the property as use for evidence - the latter of which must be returned if the person is not convicted and the property in question is legal to possess”


I’m surprised that the asset seizure from the rich and corrupt bankers hasn’t swollen the amount to well in excess of a the paltry $2Bn listed here. Seizing the assets of one “fat” banker could net a few hundred million by itself. Oh wait, that’s right…white-collar crime is exempt from this sort of thing.


I suspect that there are some loopholes in the new laws though. Civil Forfeiture isn’t a new idea, it’s an old idea that’s been expanded to the point of corruption.

If the cops find a warehouse full of contraband in mislabelled boxes, it can be hard to find someone you can lay a conviction on (can you prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the warehouse owner knew of the contraband, or was involved in smuggling/production/etc?). Civil Forfeiture allows the State to sue the contraband in hand, and not a person, and get an order to destroy it.

The trouble comes when “contraband” is extended to include things which are not, in and of themselves, illegal. $10K in cash is not illegal per se, nor is the SUV in the article photo. But if the law says that things which were acquired via a criminal enterprise or bought with the proceeds are “contraband”, it makes it possible to sue $10K in cash or an SUV, rather than 5 tonnes of ivory. Combined with the proceeds of civil forfeiture going to the agencies which impounded the items, the temptation to corruption is there.

But the “5 tonnes of ivory” situation still exists, and is still used, and doesn’t get the bad press of the $10K in cash being driven from the casinos in Las Vegas home being seized. And so any law with bans or restricts civil forfeiture will have to allow suing 5 tonnes of ivory. And police departments will try to drive their SUVs bought with drug money through any loophole they can.


Maybe I’m thinking too simply here. It appears to me that we tried it the way the police wanted and it turned out to be a miserable failure, so the slippery slope obviously applied in this case.

So now they lose the “easy” way to do this because they have been shown to abuse it. They will just have to figure out what is in those “mislabelled boxes”, who it belongs to and what (if any) crime was committed. Same with the mythical ivory.

I see the police state as children or addicts with poor impulse control (unfortunately also with weapons and laws). Society at large has tried giving them some freedom and they abused it, so now we have to reign that back in. Oh they will scream and cry and threaten to stop doing their jobs. And we will need to stay strong, cut their allowance and remember who is really in charge.


The bill says that contraband is still subject to seizure, but not to the terms of the 1978 Forfeiture Act. So they can still seize the tonne of Ivory and the brick of heroin.

See Section 2.B.2 of


Can you imagine an SEC that gave out Wall Street style bonuses every year?

Customs already has the power to seize contraband pretty much anywhere they discover it, not just at borders, so the ivory and boxes of mislabelled contraband are still subject to seizure just because they are contraband.

The issue was giving customs power to cops who are not customs agents, just kids in a candy store.

So much of law comes down to “If you can’t play nice, we have to take away your toys”.


If it’s not legal to possess, you don’t need that legal mechanism. Usually seizure of contraband is expressly permitted by laws which tend to be upheld under various doctrines that allow states and the federal government to prohibit things. You don’t need a weird unconstitutional mechanism here. Border seizures are also a special case.


That still doesn’t protect people from malicious use of forfeiture. Police could still take people’s cars, computers, tools, house, etc that are required for making a living long enough to destroy the person’s life. Which is a pretty big threat to hold over a person.

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I know, right? Imagine a world where those who are supposed to police corruption aren’t in the pockets of those who benefit most significantly from it? It would be pretty sweet.

This used to be an innocent person’s car, now it is ours. This used to be an innocent person’s life savings, now it is ours. If they want it back, then they will have to sue us, HA, HA, HA!


Perhaps - however police can still detain a person for 24 hours without a charge or crime - that’s been enshrined as something needed for police work and on a whole - it works. The law of forfeiture is meant to ensure that someone doesn’t profit from a criminal enterprise - it is currently making the law into a criminal enterprise. The idea that a warrant is needed along with some kind of guarantee that without a conviction a person has a right to their property back would go along way in keeping random officer A from taking money/property because it is possible and it will pay for the new smoothy machine in the office.

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