Civil Asset Forfeiture

Asset Forfeiture Laws 'Evil' and 'Unreformable,' Say Former Justice Department Officials


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Last week The Washington Post ran a series of in-depth articles on the problems with civil asset forfeiture. Today, two former justice department officials weighed in on the issue, calling for the abolition of the program they helped create.

John Yoder and Brad Cates were directors of the Justice Department's Asset Forfeiture Office, with a combined tenure running from 1983 to 1989. As they explain, the program started off with good intentions, but has turned to be a cure worse than the disease:

Asset forfeiture was conceived as a way to cut into the profit motive that fuelled rampant drug trafficking by cartels and other criminal enterprises, in order to fight the social evils of drug dealing and abuse. Over time, however, the tactic has turned into an evil itself, with the corruption it engendered among government and law enforcement coming to clearly outweigh any benefits.

 Can asset forfeiture be reformed? Yoder and Cates don't think so:

The Asset Forfeiture Reform Act was enacted in 2000 to rein in abuses, but virtually nothing has changed. This is because civil forfeiture is fundamentally at odds with our judicial system and notions of fairness. It is unreformable.

Despite its popularity amongst law enforcement, civil asset forfeiture clearly violates key principles of the U.S. legal system. It reverses the burden of proof, and violates the principle that people are innocent until proven guilty.

This opposition from former government officials who helped implement it is a testament to the harm it causes. It's just a shame that their opposition  comes 20 years after their role in its implementation.

For more about civil asset forfeiture, see "How Cops Became Robbers," by Reason's Jacob Sullum. 

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  1. “Former ______ deplores policy he enforced and supported before he left office.”

    This would summarize a lot of these stories.

    1. Yep.

    2. They always get all reasonable and cuddly when they no longer have the ability to abuse power. Funny that.

    3. This act still puts them ahead of 99.9% of their colleagues. Some shaming is in order, but we should welcome any government official former or current who wants to help dismantle the engines of corruption.

      1. Certainly, it’s enough of a man bites dog story to lend support to a campaign for justice.

        And St. Paul the persecutor was a cruel and sinful man, Jesus hit him with a blinding light and then his life began, etc. etc.

        But it would be nice to see a *current* officeholder, once in a while, oppose this stuff.

        1. St. Paul gave up everything he had including ultimately his life to do what was right. Sorry, but talking out of your ass about how “well maybe this wasn’t such a great idea” 20 years after you implemented that idea doesn’t exactly feed the bull dog.

          1. So if you’re doing something and stop believing in it, you should give up your job to someone who really believes in it?

        2. Well, you do have the usual suspects, Paul, Amash, etc… but good luck finding any apparatchiks that will help.

  2. Hitler deplored the Final Solution in his unpublished book, Why I Faked My Death and Moved to Argentina.

  3. It needs to end. It is just nasty and mean spirited. If someone is convicted of a crime and the judge or jury feels they unfairly benefited from the crime, you remedy that by fining them or ordering restitution.

    The only reason they ever wanted this was to take away people’s ability to hire lawyers. Now of course it has morphed into just a way to take money and fund your department.

    1. Dammit John they meant well.

      What more can we reasonably ask of Top Men anyway? There’s no way, in their role as Top Men, they could have foreseen the unintended consequences of their Top Men actions.

      Reasonettes are being unduly harsh here and I think exposing their jealousies because they aren’t Top Men like these two civil servants. These are Top Men who could have undoubtably risen to the Top Men ranks of the private sector and it’s untold riches except they dedicated their lives to serving a bunch of ungrateful Reasonettes.

  4. How did they feel when they were current Justice Department officials? And why can’t they see the big picture, that the government is evil and unreformable?

  5. In other news Adolph Eichman tells court in Jerusalem that perhaps the final solution was a pretty bad idea.

    1. “If I had known we were going to lose, I would never have done my part!”

  6. OT: Is Joe Biden actually Andy Kaufman?

    Biden says, “Bob Packwood is the kind of Republican I miss.”

    Setting: a conference on women’s issues.

    For the young’uns:

    The Oregon Republican resigned from the Senate in 1995 while facing a threat of expulsion due to allegations of sexual harassment and assaulting women. Again, Biden made this comment at a women’s conference. ?

    1. No, but his boss is. Biden is Jerry Lawler.

      1. Fuck you Pro L!

        Jerry Lawler would occasionally come into the video store I worked at in Memphis and he was a very nice guy. He was always courteous, civil and seemed pretty smart.

        Don’t you dare compare him to Biden.

    2. And good thing Joe/Jerry doesn’t own a sports team, because they’d campus rape him out of the league.

      1. Joe Biden for Commissioner of the NFL!!

        1. You know, I am curious as to what career Joe would pursue out of political office. Stand-up?

          1. Comic relief to Vladimir Putin?

          2. If I am producing a late night talk show, I am on the phone to him the day he leaves office trying to hire him as our political commentator.

            1. The thing is, he’d start trying to be funny and become the most insightful and unfunny goddamn analyst on TV.

              1. No. You would have to make him think he was playing it straight.

          3. He’d run a muscle car restoration and detailing shop.

    3. Biden would be the gift that keeps on taking, but since he is on the correct team and sits at the right hand of the Obamessiah, people will ignore this.

  7. If only they could have foreseen that easily abused powers would be easily abused.

    1. There’s an Iron Law for that.

    2. These are top men Fist. The best and the brightest. They are better than us and thus it is unthinkable that they would ever abuse their power.

      1. As my professor of first-year criminal law paraphrased those in authority: “Give us this power; we’d never abuse it.”


    I guess Fatso wasn’t behind closing the GW Bridge. Good thing we got to the bottom of that important issue.

    1. What it amounts to is that the people appointed by Christie – the people who closed the bridge in order to punish a political opponent of Christie – didn’t specifically tell their boss what they were doing.

      Wow, that totally exonerates him!

      1. I guess Henry II wasn’t linked to the murder of Becket, either.

        1. He wasn’t. Henry never wanted Becket killed and often lost his temper and said things he didn’t want taken seriously. His court knew that. The problem was Henry lost his temper in front of four knights new to the court looking to prove themselves who didn’t know that.

          1. Would you accept that excuse from Obama re the IRS?

            1. “Will no one audit these pestilential Tea Partiers?”

              1. (You’d think that would be covered in the four knights’ orientation session – “His Majesty often says things about wanting people dead, but just ignore it, he’s just blowing off steam.”)

          2. Well, we don’t really know. That’s certainly the general impression, but Henry also had all the reason in the world to not be directly responsible for Becket’s murder.

      2. That means Christie knows how to run a proper corrupt government. Would you expect any less from a governor of New Jersey?

        1. It’s just that there’s quite a leap from “no personal knowledge” to “not linked.”

    2. Well Bridgegate was a real scandal, not like that fake Benghazi, IRS, NSA, etc. etc. stuff.

  9. It’s just a shame that their opposition comes 20 years after their role in its implementation.

    Just 1 letter too many in that sentence.

  10. Yeah, as soon as “officials” lose power they get real ‘moral’, right?

  11. OT: This one is for fans of unseen irony:…..xtinction/

    “The GOP’s Last Ditch, Unconstitutional Ploy To Save An Unpopular Senator’s Career From Extinction”

    The Kansas law Kobach cites does indeed say “shall.” Yet, as election law expert Rick Hasen points out, a higher law is likely to intervene here. “It seems like it would be a tough First Amendment claim to FORCE a party to name a replacement,” according to Hasen.

    Hasen is correct. The Supreme Court has long held that the First Amendment protects a freedom to choose who you associate with. Part of this freedom, moreover, is a freedom to disassociate yourself from people or organizations you find disagreeable. As the Court explained in 1984, “Freedom of association . . . plainly presupposes a freedom not to associate.”

    1. “Now, get to work baking that cake like we told you!”

      1. Also, parties are people, my friend.

        1. Parties are people. Unions are people. Corporations that publish newspapers are people. Soylent Green is people.

          Religious organizations are not people. Right-wing political organizations are no people. Corporations that do not publish newspapers are not people. Soylent Red is not people.

    2. Freedom of association plainly presupposes a freedom not to associate…unless of course you run a place of public accomodation, own a business, decide to form a club, or whatever else we decide obligates you to sell products to, associate with, hire, or extend membership to persons you find objectionable.

      1. And it doesn’t extend to choosing not to associate with health insurers either.

    3. The irony, it burns on multiple levels!

    4. What if they wanted to associate, but limit their liability? Would they similarly be free to associate?

    5. The GOP just needs to find a gay person in the Kansas Democratic Party, and start asking why they won’t give that person the nomination.

    6. That’s ridiculous. By that logic, if the Democratic Party at any time in the future nominated a person eligible now for the nomination, they would have to justify their previous non-nomination because of the claimed previous implicit disassociation.

      1. I don’t see why. I can decide that I have better things to do than hang out with you today without having to provide some public justification as to why if I choose to hang out later.

  12. Despite its popularity amongst law enforcement, civil asset forfeiture clearly violates key principles of the U.S. legal system.

    I know I’m preaching to the choir, but “despite” is not the right word here.

    1. Find. Irregardless, then.

      1. Supercalifragilisticexpiaregardless?

  13. I’ve never understood how with deodand, the forfeiture of the article to the sovereign is supposed to expiate its guilt. If the thing is guilty, shouldn’t it have to be destroyed?

    1. Oh it’s being held prisoner. The sovereign will release it (use it) after it’s been reformed.

  14. It’s great and all that they saw the light and got out of government. But dammit, as long as the positions of power still exist, they will be filled – even if we have to go to mental hospitals to find people to fill them.

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