Civil Forfeiture As Police Crime
Posted on August 29, 2016
Say you are traveling across country and get stopped by an armed man who searches your car and finds a hidden $4000. It’s hard-earned cash and all you own but it’s not backed up with any extensive paper work carried in your car. The armed man keeps it, holds you for a while, and lets you go. The police refuse to help and tell you to sue. But you are broke, can’t afford a lawyer, and the amount is too small for a lawyer to take on contingency. And even if you could afford a lawyer you would still lose your legal fees and court costs. So the armed man keeps the money and uses it to pay himself for the strenuous effort of seizing your money.
No one I ever met would say this is fair.
Now add the fact that the man who stopped you was cop, and he had “probable cause” because there was mud on your rear left taillight, and he suspected that such a large amount of cash could possibly involve drugs.
That changes nothing. This is still utterly unfair. But it’s perfectly legal. It’s called “civil forfeiture.” And it occurs all too often in Kansas.
And the police have to know it is unfair. But most of them still defend it, on the the grounds that:
(A) sometimes it really is contraband money, and
(B) it helps them put more police on the road.
I don’t care if it is or is not legal. It is wrong. To my mind, that makes the police who defend it and use it not a whit better than crooks.
And that includes most large police departments.
As to (A), the burden of proof for seizing contraband in a law-abiding society should be on the police, not the civilian.
As to (B), I for one do not want to have any more police on the road seizing money unfairly.
By the way, you are roughly twice as likely to be stopped on the highways like this if you are a person of color. That is a law of nature that has been studied over and over again in the U.S., nearly always with the same result. And it is not because of legitimate police suspicion–when stopped, people of color are less likely than whites to be guilty of anything.