Friday, August 25, 2006

Seizures, forfeitures, and the lash

Instapundit directs us to a disturbing series of stories about police seizing property and keeping it. The happy professor is right—these cases are an outrage. I used to prosecute down in Georgia, and I worked closely with two of the local drug task forces – one with the local PD, and one with the Sheriff’s Dept. The problem with seizures of property as discussed in the post linked by the good professor, which are entirely unjustified and egregious, is even more pronounced with drug-related forfeitures. I reckon that seizing the money in a drug dealer’s pocket is fine, and forfeiting it to the state is okay, since the money is the proceeds of the sale of contraband and the dealer shouldn’t get to keep. The problem becomes “mission creep”—the cops end up loving taking the dealer’s money so much that they want to take his cell phone. And his gold teeth (I have seen that, believe me). And his car. And maybe his house. After a while, the focus of law enforcement becomes less about the substantive crime and more about what the cops can take from the dealer – while taking out the dealer may make the community safer, the public profits very little from the seizure and forfeiture of the dealer’s property (which usually isn’t worth much anyway). Permitting seizure and forfeiture of property to the state perverts the system, and makes law enforcement about something other than its original goal.