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DOJ defers payments to local police agencies through asset forfeiture program (usnews.com)
155 points by scottshea on Dec 27, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 117 comments

How is civil forfeiture(cash register justice) not a constitutional violation?

The 4th Amendment declares that citizens have a right to "their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures" and that no warrants may be issued without a statement of probable cause "particularly describing…things to be seized."

The 5th Amendment says the accused criminals shall not be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

The 6th Amendment ensures that people accused of crimes must be "informed of the nature and cause of the accusation,"

The 8th Amendment forbids the government to impose "excessive fines" or "cruel and unusual punishments."

Opponents of the change have little more than 'the ends justify the means' as a counter argument.

The loophole relied on is that you aren't seizing "their" property, you're seizing property of unknown ownership. The onus is on the purported owner to prove it belongs to them so they can have Constitutional rights in it.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_rem_jurisdiction, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_forfeiture_in_the_United... and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asset_forfeiture#United_States

Note that the government can admit the person used to own it. Under https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/981, property used in certain crimes belongs to the government, and so the government takes it. It's then the person's job to prove it was not involved in a crime. Courts have ruled this doesn't violate anyone's rights.

(I probably have some of this wrong, IANAL, but I gave sources so you can look those up.)

What I don't understand is how courts can assume it's used in a crime before a crime has been proven in court.

Presumably, if I can prove I earned/bought something, and am not convicted of a crime, turf the government seizure is wrongful and I should get restitution, but from what I read, that doesn't work?

Only persons have the presumption of not being guilty. Not property. The government can claim crimes all they want, they just can't claim a person committed a crime (and punish them for it).

This is all about shifting the burden of proof to the accused. Allowing the money to be charged separately does that, or so courts have ruled.

(Insert above disclaimer here.)

If that's the loophole, then how does it not apply just as well to all searches and seizures? Why can't cops just show up at a house, search it, take whatever they want, and leave it up to the owner to prove they're the owner or try to fight it in court after the fact? Of course, that's a rhetorical question, because that exact thing does routinely happen.

Because they don't have any basis for claiming that it belongs to them.

Whereas property accused of being used for illegal purposes does have such a basis.

So the cops just have to declare that they believe the property has been used for illegal purposes, then they can search your house and take whatever they want. That's not much of a barrier.

It's more complicated. A house is treated differently (I linked some resources on why elsewhere in this thread), and going in requires a warrent.

Then shouldn't the law that transfers ownership be "seizing property without due process" and therefore unconstitutional?

The law says (assuming I'm understanding properly) if a crime was committed with property, then that property automatically belongs to the government.

The government says "this property belongs to us. You have no rights in it, because a crime was committed with it. Therefore, you have no constitutional protections. Prove that it's yours, and to do so, you must prove that no crime was committed."

The comment you're replying to is asking how that is not siezing property without due process. Repeating what they're doing doesn't answer the question of where due process occurs before the person is deprived of their property.

The person is not deprived of "their" property. They may be deprived of property that they have no way to show is, in fact, theirs.

Then the question is, what is property rights? What safety in my property and protection against seizure thereof do I have from the constitution?

Any property not accused of a crime is protected, plus some other categories. I posted a law review article above that went into detail.

They're using a legal loophole, charging the property with being complicit in a crime, not the person. So the piles of money they seize aren't protected by the constitution. This is obviously absurd, corrupt, ridiculous, etc. We have a very corrupt justice system.

If the police catch you outside of an electronics store with a broken back door in the middle of the night walking away with a big screen TV do you think they should have to convict you of a crime before they take the TV from you?

And if you say "no" to that then where exactly do you draw the line in between law enforcement taking obviously stolen property and law enforcement taking personal property?

I don't ask this question rhetorically, I ask it because I'm honestly not sure.

Yes, I think they should have to charge you with a crime. If they're sure enough that you took it, they should be able to get a conviction. If they're not, they shouldn't take it.

> where exactly do you draw the line in between law enforcement taking obviously stolen property and law enforcement taking personal property?

The difference is the "obviously stolen" part. None of the ludicrous instances of civil asset forfeiture I have read involve property that is obviously (or even allegedly) stolen. Heck, half the time it's just a cop pulling someone over on a highway, stealing their cash, and sending them on their way.

Without data to support the claim, I'm pretty suspicious of the idea that half the time it's a cop taking money from some random person on a highway.

People have been posting these stories here for a while, here's a couple of examples:



That first one was ok.

In general though I wish articles like this relied less on anecdote and more on data. I'm way more convinced by evidence of large scale issues than I am by a single story no matter how egregious.

I was talking only about blatant misuses of civil asset forfeiture, and the "half" figure wasn't meant to be taken literally. All I meant is that there are plenty of instances of civil asset forfeiture where there is not even the pretense of criminal involvement, where a police officer simply takes property from someone and it's up to them to fight to get it back.

The software I work on has plenty of bugs (as it was made by humans) but it's still pretty useful. I think to have any real discussion here we need some sort of data on error rates. Sure, it's sucks for the guy that gets his rightful property taken from him. But is that happening 10% of the time? 1% of the time? .01% of the time?

My opinion on the matter would change drastically depending on which one of those numbers reflects reality.

I don't understand. My position is that blatant abuses of civil asset forfeiture should happen less and should be punished severely. The standard required to seize assets should probably be higher, and there should be far less burden on the asset owner to reclaim their assets.

In your analogy, that's me saying that we should try to reduce the number of bugs in our software. I don't think this is controversial.

Ah. Then we agree!

I think I mixed up your opinion with some other folks who think we shouldn't have asset forfeiture at all. Sorry about that. My mistake.

If there is a suspicion of a crime they should be able to stop and search you (hence the reasonable clause). But if they only see you carrying a TV they should not be able to stop and take it. And that is what they've done. "You have a lot of money in your possession, it must have been ill gotten gains from a crime so we will take it." They do this without even knowing what crime was committed.

To add to that much of the property in criminal cases isn't claimed to begin with. When they bust a drug stash no one in their right mind would claim ownership on neither the drugs nor the money seized.

That money will get into evidence and will normally be returned the the federal reserve, the program allowed the DOJ to appropriate a portion of that money and distribute it to local law enforcement agencies to increase their funding.

Money and other assets will still be seized and they will still not be returned to the criminals they were seized form even if they do not go to trial this might seem unfair but those assets are unclaimed if they claim them they need to prove ownership and that will get them into a sea of trouble.

Where will this money go now, well most likely back to the fed or will be kept on the DOJ books, I really don't understand why people have trouble with this policy or why they hail the halt to it as some great achievement to civil rights.

Because the cops can simply pull you over for a bogus traffic violation, search you, seize any cash you have on you, and send you on your way. Now it's up to you to prove that your $3000 in cash was legitimate.

Costs more than $3000 to fight the case, so what are you going to do about it? The cops just stole your $3000 and there isn't shit you can do.

And now the government has stolen it from the cops. Well, it's better than nothing I guess.

It creates an obvious conflict of interest. The cops now have a reason to abuse their power. They get paid.

Take it from you and put it in evidence? Sure, but that is a time limited thing. The court will either rule it is your TV, and they should give it back to you, or it is ruled as stolen and given back to the proper owner. The part where they keep it is obviously wrong.

I'm fairly certain that when assets are forfeited any party has the opportunity to claim the property. There is no case where no claim is found valid and law enforcement gets to keep it.

From wheat I read, police have been pulling people over, and if there is cash in the car, "suspected" it might be used for drugs (even though the accused claims it's for other reasonable purchases) and then the person doesn't get the money, even after making a claim to get it back.

In your example it's not forfeiture, it's evidence. Evidence treated differently. It's either held until a verdict is reached or it's returned to its rightful owner.

Under the 4th, the government has proposed and the courts have accepted a mendacious definition of reasonable.

Under the 5th, due process basically means you have a right to a hearing where you can present evidence, examine witnesses, have counsel if you desire, etc and have the reasoning for the decision written down. It doesn't require that the rules being applied be fair.

Under the 6th, nobody is being accused of a crime, otherwise it'd be a criminal forfeiture.

Under the 8th, civil forfeitures aren't fines or punishments.

The courts are far too deferential to the government. Unfortunately, presidents tend to appoint and the senate tends to confirm judges who will ignore all but the most egregious violations of the constitution when given laughable but marginally plausible arguments as to why the constitution is not in fact being violated.

If you appoint strict constructionist judges who would interpret the literal text and original intent of the constitution, you would probably also have to give up Roe v. Wade and things like affirmative action, that are not literally in the constitution.

You'd also have no hope of a future Supreme Court reading into the Constitution protection against surveillance as violating of some "right to privacy" that appears nowhere in the text of the Constitution.

No, not because of "right to privacy," but it would be pretty easy for those justices to rule that the federal government has no authority to conduct mass surveillance precisely because there is no explicit such authority given to the federal government in the Constitution.

But a very broad national security power is part of the Constitution, by design. The necessary and proper clause would mean nothing if that doesn't fall within the grant of power to provide for the national defense.

I don't know how to begin to estimate whether the good things (according to my own policy preferences) would outweigh the bad.

Regarding the fourth amendment, the assets must be discovered pursuant to a legitimate search (either a legitimate search incident to arrest or traffic stop or a search pursuant to a warrant). Regarding the other amendments: civil asset forfeiture does not involve the government taking away your legitimate property to punish you for a crime. It involves seizing property that is more likely than not the proceeds or instrumentality of criminal activity. It has its roots in admiralty law and the seizure of contraband from ships, which was not considered a deprivation of property subject to due process at the time of the founding: http://www.forbes.com/2011/06/08/property-civil-forfeiture.h....

The courts have also managed to disregard the 'enumerated powers' clause of the constitution and the tenth amendment.[1][2] In some ways, it is unrealistic for us to expect a creature of the federal government to restrict the powers of the federal government. Most of the federal agencies are defended by an 'ends justify the means' type argument.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enumerated_powers

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tenth_Amendment_to_the_United_...

"How is civil forfeiture(cash register justice) not a constitutional violation?"

It is. But you assume that laws cannot violate the constitution. They can and they do constantly, all the time. The constitution doesn't mean shit (I wanted to add "anymore", but from reading history, I'm not convinced it ever meant shit). That's just reality. It only means something when people in power want it to mean something. And yes, it's incredibly ironic that this is the exact system we had a revolution to get away from. Maybe not so much when you consider that a revolution is a 360 degree rotation that ends up in the exact same place. In that case, it probably isn't ironic that such programs had a huge resurgence under King George II (2000-2008), although had he been the third, the irony and historical allusion would have been even better.

As far as justice and rule by law in the US, I think it's time for us to accept reality, that the US "justice" system is beyond broken and unfixable. This simply isn't justice and most of what the system deals with is not either: it's the opposite. If we keep lying to ourselves that this is justice, we'll never be able to stop this horrific system that ruins millions of lives and creates such a terrified, divided society. Once you understand that there are no laws and no Constitution protecting you, that the gang in blue can do whatever the fuck they want and get away with it up to and including murder, shit gets a lot scarier. And no, you don't have to be a minority to see this reality.

Fatalists do the least. When you throw your hands up in resignation you're simply ceding the game to the ones you claim to hate. Life's hard, tough shit. Plenty of societies have been moved from within through citizen's actions. To imply that suddenly now it's harder than ever is narcissistic whining. There are a thousand people grinding right now to move the needle to green, and I bet not a single one of them asked for permission from "people in power".

I'm not trying to suggest that there's nothing that can be done, though I can see how you might interpret it that way, or that it's harder now than in the past, though I can't possibly see where you got that from. I'm simply saying that the "justice" system cannot be fixed without completely dismantling and replacing it, and that's not something you're going to do by changing a few laws or even releasing thousands of prisoners. Both are good ideas, but neither change the inherent injustices in our system of which there are way too many to even list. Plea bargains, mandatory minimums, criminalization of everyday activities, habeas corpus (or lack thereof), policing for money, prison officials that encourage rape and violence, racial profiling, different judicial outcomes based on wealth, police committing blatant murders without recourse or consequences, etc. are all huge problems in our current system and are not going to be fixed by a system that can't even ensure its basic principles (the constitution) is upheld.

I don't see it as "fatalist," at least not in a negative sense. It's quite possible that the average person does have effectively no control over policy, and that one's time is better spent directly making one's life as best as possible by fostering relationships, furthering one's career, enjoying hobbies and entertainment, etc.

And of course I don't think it's now harder than ever. I'm not sure where that notion came from.

That's why the US should have a Constitutional Court (even if it's "one-sided") the same way it allowed itself to have a one-sided secret spy Court. At least most of the unconstitutional bills would be filtered out then, before they ever become laws. Merely hoping to ban an unconstitutional law at the Supreme Court two decades after it passed doesn't sound very democratic or "justice-like" to me, but it seems to be the system Americans have allowed to exist.

AKA the Supreme Court.

Edit: I think the end of your comment was edited in. Regarding waiting, often it's because nobody considered it problematic at the time. Many rulings striking down laws are overturning previous rulings upholding those laws, and are rarely unanimous.

Find me a law that was overturned unanimously, would be struck down by any court looking at it, yet was both law and enforced for decades because nobody looked at it.

The Supreme Court cannot proactively take on an issue. Hacking around stuff like jurisdiction and standing is how obviously unconstitutional practices like what the NSA and various other agencies do are able to persist so long.

You realize that several courts have disagreed with your blanket finding of "obviously unconstitutional"?

And the legal issue there is mostly whether the law actually authorizes the NSA to do what they do, not Constitutional issues (with exception).

Which specific practices have courts not found to be constitutional, yet wasn't stopped because of "jurisdiction and standing"?

Do you think that a program like BULLRUN, where the government secretly modifies systems belonging to US and other entities is constitutional?

The answer is almost certainly "no". But good luck litigating it.

That's got nothing to do with jurisdiction and standing, and everything to do with the people in charge denying that it takes place.

Could you link to which specific leaked info says that they secretly modified US systems?

How would a court looking at more laws have stopped whatever happened?

This Supreme Court has. Look at Citizens United.

This, and other decisions, is why this Supreme Court has done more damage to the US than ISIS could ever hope to do.

The Citizens United case in brief: The Supreme Court said that the Federal Elections Commission's attempt to censor a documentary about Hillary Clinton as an "electioneering communication" within x days of an election was a violation of the first amendment.

If you don't like the outcome in Citizens United, you've either been lied to about what the decision was or you believe that the first amendment doesn't apply to political speech when people organize together to speak it.

No not at all. You have to have standing, and you have to bring your case. The exact opposite of the supreme court.

Anyone whose rights could conceivably be violated under some law has standing to challenge it.

"You have to bring the case" what's the alternative, that someone sues for every new law even if nobody thinks it's unconstitutional? Who exactly do we get to argue for outcomes nobody believes or wants? (Yes, lawyers will argue for things they don't believe, but somebody wants that outcome).

So if everyone likes a law, the best thing should be not to have a lawsuit. If someone doesn't like a law, then they can go ahead and sue.

Or do you want all laws to be delayed until pending lawsuits finish? But if a court agrees that you're very likely to prevail, they can issue an injunction to prevent the law from going into effect. Most laws have a waiting period before becoming law anyway.

Could you be very specific in which particular aspect of modern American jurisprudence you would abolish, what your justification for that is, and what you'd replace it with?

> Anyone whose rights could conceivably be violated under some law has standing to challenge it.

It is extremely difficult for an individual to bring a case before the court to challenge a law _without_ having that law being used against the same individual. You have to commit the crime and be charged using the law. That would give you standing.

The government can pass all the unconstitutional laws they want, which then get applied to people, if someone has the means to fight and win, then the law gets overturned. There is no lower or time limit to which laws can violate the constitution.

That's incorrect. For first amendment violations, everyone has standing, and for everything else, you only need to show that it will harm you, not that it's being used against you. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standing_(law)#Recent_developm... and the next two sections.

Thanks for the link, I will have to look into this more.

Why do you suppose that a constitutional court would rule with an interpretation of constitutionality similar to your own? Heck, I don't even see a good way to incentivize constitutional courts to rule honestly, even if the judges own beliefs about the constitution did match mine. Apart from individuals' own desires for power, there's really very little reason for branches of government to do anything other than collude.

> And yes, it's incredibly ironic that this is the exact system we had a revolution to get away from.

I don't know if that's the case. It seems to me that one plausible reading of the history of the United States is that the rich colonists ("founding fathers") wanted to make sure they had all the power they wanted over the new government.

The law means what everyone says it means. A plain reading of the constitution (and without a doubt the founders intentions) prohibit civil forfeiture. Unfortunately the courts have rubber-stamped the ridiculous legal fiction that the government is suing the property so here we are.

This is what makes libertarianism a cruel joke: even if it made sense, it would be subverted immediately by powerful or moneyed interests.

The constitution means nothing if the courts or executive won't enforce it.

> The law means what everyone says it means.

Not quite. The law means what the people with actual power say it means. I find it odd that people express surprise when something happens that seems to violate some text written on a piece of paper. It's people with guns versus a text document. Not really a fair match, and not a surprising outcome.

> This is what makes libertarianism a cruel joke: even if it made sense, it would be subverted immediately by powerful or moneyed interests.

Not sure what that has to do with libertarianism specifically. Seems like "democracy" or even just "government" fits better in that sentence.

Re the 8th, https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=100051333946330... seems to say that it does apply.

Re the 5th, https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=527393711501700... seems to say it does apply, but only for "real" property (land).

https://www.pennlawreview.com/print/163-U-Pa-L-Rev-867.pdf seems to have a good summary of the legal aspects here.

"the Department is deferring for the time being any equitable sharing payments from the Program" seems pretty explicitly to be a temporary suspension of payouts from the program, not a closure of the entire program.

"We explored every conceivable option that would have enabled us to preserve some form of meaningful equitable sharing. ... Unfortunately, the combined effect of the two reductions totaling $1.2 billion made that impossible." Doesn't seem like they wanted it closed to me.

How is this not just positive spin on a doj money grab?

> How is this not just positive spin on a doj money grab?

While the _best_ case scenario would be the entire notion of any asset sharing program be made outright illegal [0] because it has been shown to be corrupt, etc, etc - simply having it shut down is a good thing even if not for "good reasons" because at the very minimum, it means that if and when the program is reinstated, it will force conversation of the issue, something that has gone largely un-discussed in the American political landscape.

[0]: I personally would argue it should be illegal regardless of conviction, otherwise it incentivizes police forces and DAs to only go after high payout crimes

"it means that if and when the program is reinstated"

I'm saying it was never cancelled

Well now the argument can be made while the program is down. Why have the program if it's not doing it's thing?

In practice, either the program was a money grab, or terminating it was. Public opinion has been that the program was a money grab, incentivizing state+local to aggressively seize funds under federal law, to get the "equitable sharing" kickbacks. Without "equitable sharing", states+locals have no incentive to seize funds to seize funds to send to the Feds.

We'll see what happens when the DOJ realizes how much of that $1.2B was driven by state incentives, and their dirty golden goose stops laying eggs

Public opinion isn't even aware this exists.

Well, I think if you went to the streets and asked a selection of people for their opinions on most topics, the majority would be aware that there was even an issue.

I think that's generally the case.

Yes, sounds like congress defunded because of journalism and constituent feedback not Department of Justice ended the abusive program.

Current HN title is more accurate.

If that's true, then it's odd that the article doesn't explain this. If anyone can suggest a more informative article, we can change the URL.

Edit: The AP appears to frame the story more accurately: http://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2015-12-24/us-p.... Should we use this instead? It's rather short.

yeah this article pretty clearly states what I was trying to get across: "The Justice Department says it's not suspending or shutting down the program — just that it doesn't have the money to pay police departments right now."

Ok, we've changed the URL to that from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/12/23/the-f..., and changed the title from 'Congress defunds DOJ Seized Asset sharing program' to that of this article.

"Equitable sharing", that's great.

I thought that was funny wording too.

I wonder if the person whose money was "forfeited" finds the sharing to be equitable.

It could be a let down the police easy.


I really hate that our legal system has, to a large degree, decided to a very, very narrow and very literal implementation of the Bill or Rights rather than going with the Spirit of the law. Civil asset forfeiture as practiced by the government is very clearly contrary to 5th amendment. But since it's using a bullshit legal loophole of suing the property and not the owner and doesn't violate the literal words it's A-OK!

The legal system has not narrowly interpreted the Bill of Rights. For example, the First Amendment has been construed to preclude lots of restrictions on conduct that is not literally "speech." Everything from contraception to abortion to gay marriage has become a "right" even though nobody can point to the specific amendment that guarantees it.

In the case of civil asset forfeiture, central to the Supreme Court's upholding of those laws was the fact that laws providing for civil forfeiture of contraband property were passed by the First Congress.

> Everything from contraception to abortion to gay marriage has become a "right" even though nobody can point to the specific amendment that guarantees it.

9 & 10?


The US constitution itself explains what is apparently mysterious to some people. Rights are not enumerated. Indeed, as long as they do not impinge on the rights of others they are limitless. Otherwise our rights would be mired in the context of 18th c. morals and technology, and would require constant amendments to keep up.

We have a right to use encryption. Cryptocurrency. CRISPR. Etc. We have those rights. Why? Because nothing in the constitution says we don't. Otherwise the constitution would be unmaintainable.

A statement that a list of rights is non-exhaustive does not mean they are limitless. The purported right must be found somewhere else. E.g. Buying alcohol on Sundays is not prohibited in the Constitution, but you don't have a right to that because blue laws were accepted at the time.

Your idea of limitless rights turns Constitutional democracy on its head. Rights are exceptions to the power of the majority to regulate society. Limitless rights curtails democracy to nothing.

Your example about blue laws says nothing about rights. Blue laws regulate commerce but they don't prohibit anything outright. You can still drink on Sunday. If that restriction were to become too burdensome, a constitutional care could be made against it.

If the courts interpreted the constitution more broadly, the 10th amendment would render most federal laws and regulations unconstitutional. Ever since the Wickard v. Filburn era (or arguably even before then), the courts have given the federal executive, legislature, and bureaucracy great deference.[1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wickard_v._Filburn

It's amazing what you can do when you threaten to pack the court. When the Supreme Court blocked a lot of New Deal and state-level regulations as unconstitutional, FDR threatened to appoint enough new justices to get the decisions he wanted (there is no limit to the number of justices in the Constitution). That was the end of the Lochner era of American jurisprudence and was a tragedy for freedom. We're still suffering the consequences today.

And that would be great, as it would force constitutional processes for large legislation, e.g. the war on drugs.

How can you sue property? That doesn't even make sense. It's like corporations are people. These are just "creative" ways to circumvent the constitution and rule of law.

The role of the legal system (and government) is to keep those worth the most, safe. As a consequence, it may sometimes also protect regular people because that makes the society that feeds and supports them safer. But make no mistake, 1 there is no real power other than the power of force, and 2 he who has the gold, makes the rules.

I think you will see more of these moves going forward. As the hysteria of the 1990's starts subsiding and baby boomers start retiring, some of the worst police abuses are going to become politically untenable to defend.

Well, yeah, except this isn't about that. It's about the DOJ losing money on the deal. So they'll just keep it all, thank you very much, and defer state seizures to state laws, which I think you'll find quietly become much more flexible to cover this new income gap.

"the practice has exploded in recent years, prompting concern that, in some cases, police are motivated more by profits and less by justice."

In some cases?

"The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) said in a statement that "this decision is detrimental to state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.""

Not being able to rape and pillage their communities makes serving their communities harder.

Your comment caught my interest. Can you expand of the reasoning a bit further?

Post-vietnam war the US became a lot more conservative. 1980's saw "trickle down economics" (giving money to rich people would trickle down to everyone, seriously), increased mandatory jail times, three strikes laws, increased funding for war against drugs, white flight from the cities to gaited communities. A lot of these trends seem to be slowing or even reversing a bit, one can hope.

On trickle-down economics:

It is true that rich people tend to fund things like large businesses, which then pay middle-class workers. However, giving them free money gives them no reason to actually use that money to fund more businesses. Why invest when Uncle Sam gives you an allowance?

Solid reasoning, terrible plan.

Cut out the middle man and just pay people directly.

I do like the Basic Income Guarantee, but have yet to do any math on how efficient it is compared to the US's welfare system.

Ideally, the money would come in the form of a standardized cheque, to be handed out once a month to anybody who is 18 or older and can come to the local DMV and provide proof of citizenship. Unclaimed money goes toward funding the program, getting more workers into DMVs to handle traffic, and (again, ideally) could be sent to a charity of the recipient's choice.

In the 1960's, liberal Supreme Courts created lots of new rights for criminals and the accused. In the 1970's and 1980's, crime skyrocketed. It went up so much that even though by the 1990's the incarceration rate had quadrupled, the rise in incarceration did not even catch up with the rise in crime until 1998. On the back of that rise in crime, there was a corresponding hardening of the justice system. The war on drugs, elimination of parole, etc.

Crime has dropped dramatically since the peak in the mid-1990's. But that massive build-up of the justice system has persisted, and today the incarceration rate dramatically exceeds the crime rate. As the people who forget that New York City in the 1990's used to be Gotham City, and now only remember it as Disney Land, the political slur of "soft on crime" is going to lose some of its bite. We are seeing Obama talk about criminal justice reforms that say Bill Clinton in the 1990's never would have been able to talk about. I remember growing up in the 1990's, and all the advertisements and school assemblies about drugs--a prevailing attitude that can only be described as "hysterical." Remember Clinton having to say "I smoked but never inhaled?" Today, we're seeing legalization of marijuana all over the country. We're seeing a generation of future voters that will grow up hearing about Ferguson and Freddie Gray instead of how people high on crack cocaine are going around raping women in the inner city. That's going to change what kind of police conduct voters are willing to tolerate.

That time frame also matches the rise and fall for the use of leaded gasoline, which has been theorized to be the cause of the crime rate rise and fall. [1]

You seem to be suggesting that liberal Supreme Court rulings caused the crime wave, and conservative backlash in the justice system curbed it. The conservative backlash may have been triggered by the crime wave, but I don't think liberal rulings caused the crime wave. The recent swing back to the liberal side, with the political changes you mentioned, and no corresponding increase in crime, seems to bear that out.

[1] http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27067615

I'm not saying liberal rulings caused the crime wave. I am saying that there was a trend towards a more humane justice system that was stopped dead in its tracks for a generation by the crime waves of that era. I mention the liberal rulings of the prior era to highlight how the court system is capable of moving forward toward justice when the political climate is amenable to such liberalization.

This is legalized stealing. Targets were often not criminals but people with valuable assets.

This is really great news. Asset forfeiture should only happen after someone has been convicted of a crime.

They didn't shut down the asset forfeiture, they shut down the sharing of seized assets with local police forces.

Their budget was cut, so they said "we need ours, pony up."

Likely, police forces which relied on federal statute to get 80% of the seized resources will now resort to state statute to maximize what they can take from seized assets.

It removes the federal loophole and it makes it a state problem. In the past, police would team up with feds to get around state laws.

Yes, it's still a problem but it's much more manageable now.

Lots of states no longer allowed this, and so an officer would get federally deputized and "cooperate" for some minimal definition of the word with a federal agency, and then local crime enforcement remained federal. This ends the loophole that allowed local police forces to seize assets even when their state prohibited it. Like my state.

...but what's the great news part?

It will be great news if this widespread official larceny is actually reduced, but that's yet to be seen.

It will be reduced. There are states that already prohibit asset forfeiture, but the this was a loophole. The police could team up with the feds, the feds seize the assets and then give a percentage to the police.

5. That’s crazy!!! This can’t happen in my state. It might be crazy, but civil asset forfeiture happens in every state in the union. Even if the state has laws that limit it, state and local law enforcement authorities can still seize property by partnering with federal law enforcement officials in a system called “equitable sharing,” and payouts to state and local agencies have increased nearly 250% over a 12-year period.


Long overdue, this has been an obvious yet growing problem for decades. Asset forfeiture needs to be ended completely. This is only the first step.

"This program was found to be corrosive to the integrity of our justice system, incompatible with American values, and thus we are terminating it immediately"


"We're keeping the money, LoL"

This is surprising good news.

Took me three tries to read "defunds" properly, not as "defends".

To be fair when I posted it autocorrect changed it to "defends" and I had to change it back

The article didn't answer the question, and I very curious -- if you're basically taking people's property and keeping 20% of the rake, how do you manage to lose billions in the process? Is it that the 20% is actually allocated elsewhere, or that asset forfeiture is somehow more expensive than I'd granted?

Why isn't asset forfeiture an issue in the presidential campaign?

All police revenue should go in a pool at the national level, and be randomly distributed to all states. "Protect and Serve" not "Loot and Pillage".

"police revenue": that's terrifying. How is turning law enforcement into a legally protected extortion gang a good idea?

Because that is what it is. There's nothing wrong with calling a duck a duck.

Even if unintentional this is a step in the right directions because it removes the incentive for bogus civil asset forfeiture.

The ratio of criminals is probably about the same in law enforcement and the general population.

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