When Cops Seize Property from Michael Haugen at The National Review
If this situation sounds like an abuse of constitutional due process, it is — and it gets worse. Because the property itself “commits” a crime under civil forfeiture, the burden of proof is on the property owner, who must prove that the property was not involved in criminal activity, or that he didn’t know, or couldn’t have known, that it would be used for that purpose. And since law-enforcement agencies usually get to retain most, if not all, forfeiture proceeds upon final disposition, this creates a perverse incentive to be as aggressive as possible in pushing civil forfeiture to its limits.
It isn’t just the government that’s making money, either. DEA agents paid one Amtrak secretary $854,460 over two decades to provide information on travelers. Initially this was done only at an agent’s request, but soon the secretary “began making queries on his own initiative.” The potential for civil forfeiture to corrupt otherwise well-intended law-enforcement activity is very significant, and evidently isn’t limited to government actors. Ordinary citizens should not be co-opted to aid in a constitutionally dubious practice with the allure of hefty remunerations, nor should they be incentivized to take law into their own hands.
“We want the cash,” proclaimed a former drug-task-force supervisor who oversaw one such operation attached to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. “Good agents chase cash.” This sort of sentiment is an unfortunate example of how the perverse incentives behind asset forfeiture can transform an otherwise legitimate crime-fighting tool into a constitutional nightmare, and well-meaning law-enforcement officers into de facto revenue generators.
Good agents don’t chase cash, they combat crime.
Asset forfeiture laws are morally and legally reprehensible.