Best of Reason on Asset Forfeiture: We've Had Your Back for Decades

Eric Holder finally listens.


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Attorney General Eric Holder just made the best call of his political career: ending the Department of Justice's Equitable Sharing Program, which incentivized local cops to merrily commit plunder and share the proceeds with the feds. While this move will not end the unconscionable practice of police forfeiture, it's still a praiseworthy step in the right direction.

Reason has been standing up for the little guys whose stuff gets stolen by government thugs for longer than virtually any other journalism outlet (longer than I have been alive, in fact). While no one can deny the excellent work done by The Washington Post and others in recent months to bring this criminal practice the broader attention it deserved, Reason writers—including former staffer Radley Balko, now at WaPost—were among the earliest, most consistent, and most vocal opponents of asset forfeiture.

Here is a Reason article raising hell about forfeiture abuse from the March 1989 issue of the magazine:

Once someone is charged with selling narcotics, for example, prosecutors can seize any of the suspect's assets that might represent proceeds of the drug sales. This usually happens prior to trial, before the person has been convicted of anything. Often all of the suspect's assets are frozen, so that he or she has nothing left to hire an attorney. 

Coverage continued in the May 1990 issue with Stefan Herpel's "United States vs. One Assortment of 89 Firearms." Richard Miniter exposed the dubious motives of forfeiture reform's opponents in a groundbreaking 1993 article, "Ill-Gotten Gains." Our in-depth coverage continued throughout the '90s and '00s. Then, beginning in 2010, Balko gave the issue a much higher profile with his feature story for the magazine, "The Forfeiture Racket."

More recently, Reason has continued to sound the alarm bells here, here, and here. And asset forfeiture reform is on Reason's "to-do list" for Congress this year.

I publicized the rage-inducing case of Wally Kowalski, who was raided by cops and lost all of his "auctionable" assets—even though they didn't charge him with a crime until after he talked to the media about it.

Even more from Reason on asset forfeiture here.