Civil Asset Forfeiture

Cops Should Seek 'Justice,' Not 'Forfeiture'

Federal rule change won't stop locals from 'policing for profit'


In 2008, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms received bad publicity after it handed out to employees pocketknives engraved with "ATF" spelled out: Always Think Forfeiture. The agency was, in essence, caught encouraging its employees to seize as much property as possible under controversial civil asset-forfeiture programs.

ATF stopped giving out the pocketknives, but federal, state and local agencies have come to depend increasingly on seized assets to bolster their budgets. Many new "toys" departments buy — fancy new vehicles, military style equipment, weaponry and gadgets — are funded this way.

The issue has been in the news again recently after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced he was paring back a federal civil-forfeiture program, although some observers complain news reports made the reform sound more far-reaching than it really is.

If someone is convicted of, say, running a murder-for-hire operation, it's not unreasonable for government to grab the killer's car, cash and tools of the trade. But police routinely take property from people who have never been convicted of or charged with any crime — and agencies have a financial incentive to use minor allegations of law-breaking to grab massive amounts of loot.

Last year, I reported on Tony and Morgan Jalali, an Anaheim couple who own a $1.5-million office building. They rented space to a medical-marijuana clinic they believed to be operating within state law. But the city accused the dispensary of illegal activity after an undercover officer purchased $37 in marijuana. It then tried to take the couple's building because of that tiny transaction by a tenant.

The case is United States of America vs. Real Property Located at 2601 W. Ball Road. The name is revealing for two reasons. First, the government is not taking the property's owner to court, but is suing the actual property. Officials need only show the property was used in the commission of a crime, not prove wrongdoing by its owners.

Second, the plaintiff is the U.S. government, not the city. California's asset-forfeiture laws require governments to show a "clear and convincing" link between the property and a crime, which is a stricter standard than federal law. So locals routinely do an end-run around state law by partnering with federal agencies.

Holder's administrative reform puts the kibosh on a process whereby local cops grab an asset and then ask the feds to "adopt" it. Then federal law applies — and the feds and locals split up the booty. But the reform is almost meaningless. Local police can still take the assets if they work together with federal law enforcement agencies before the property is taken.

The case against the Jalalis was eventually dropped, but such outrages will continue given the profit motive for government. San Diego area police and prosecutors received $30 million in a seven-year period from asset forfeiture, according to Sheriff Bill Gore told the publication the Holder decision will have "minimal impact" because most seizures come as part of local-federal task forces.

"The system of civil-asset forfeiture benefits an overreaching government bent not on protecting American civil liberties, but their own financial interests," said Diane Goldstein, a retired lieutenant at the Redondo Beach Police Department, and spokesperson for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which lobbies for drug-law reform. She said police agencies have worried about what the Holder reform will mean for their budgets, which shows the degree to which this program is driven by money.

"The whole asset-forfeiture program is a direct affront on the Fifth Amendment that gave Americans the right to be secure in their property," said Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Ca.), in an interview Wednesday. It reminds him of the scene from "Alice and Wonderland" where the queen declares, "Sentence first, verdict afterwards."

McClintock and other members of Congress from the left and right are sponsoring a bill to toughen up standards of proof and require that seized assets go to the U.S. treasury rather than department budgets among other limits. More reform is needed at the state level, too.

But the last time a bill was introduced in Sacramento, police lobbyists crushed it. Until laws change, maybe someone can give police officials pocketknives with this inscription: Always Think Fairness.

NEXT: When Liberals Ignore Science

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    1. We in government are not subject to the same laws you people are; note the direction of tax receipts and who puts who in prison.
    2. Government has made laws granting government your property and good lite Americans follow the law.

    I know you see this as a moral issue going beyond the law – what you need to learn is that the law is a REFLECTION OF PRE EXISTING MORALITY. Government employees are exempt from your morality.


    1. Gman:

      In so far as it goes, re your statement, you might be correct, however you and your fellow “government employees” might take a moment to consider the following. There are a lot more, even these days, non government employees than there are government employees.

      Push coming to shove, given a sufficiently annoyed public, their forbearance to date is truly amazing, have a care, two questions come to mind.

      1. Who do you think would come out winners?
      2. How long to you think that the “government employees” would last?

      I therefore respectfully suggest that you “government employees” proceed with the utmost care, remembering which side your bread is buttered on,and who it is that provides the butter.

      Your thoughtful attention is again requested re the following. Asset Forfeiture, given accusation, trial and conviction is one thing, Civil Asset Forfeiture, lacking all of the above is, in simple terms, Theft Under Color of Law, something to be avoided. I submit that the proposition is worthy of thought.

  2. Always Think Fairness

    How about this for fair? If an agency is found to have improperly seized A’s assets, A gets to take from the agents an equivalent amount of personal property. Plus penalties and interest, of course.

    1. Never mind. “Improperly seized” appears to be an oxymoron.

    2. Abscond From Them?

      1. Appropriate!

    3. Screw that… apply the same standards in the opposite direction. Person A would get to seize from the agency any/all property that was in any way involved in the agency’s unlawful attempt to seize property from A. He could take their computers, phones, vehicles, office buildings…

      1. Curt:

        Isn’t the stuff you mentioned, in the last analysis, the property of the people, including you? The individuals operating Theft Under Color of Law are the ones deserving punishment, serious punishment, not the general public, who are the aggrieved parties,right?

      2. No I want the agents held personally liable.

        You take their house
        college funds
        bank accounts


        What we lack is accountability from the people committing the acts of abuse. Taking away their 69 Mustang is going to be a hell of a lot more effective than taking 2 million dollars from a multi-billion dollar federal agency.

        There needs to be legislation that lets us pierce the veil of sovereign immunity.

  3. Thank you, Supreme Court, for allowing this practice to continue. It couldn’t be a much more flagrant and reprehensible violation of due process rights.

  4. Aimfor The Face

  5. Um, fire people? wouldn’t that help?

    How about all items seized, when the owner is found to be not guilty of whatever crime, should be returned + a rental fee of 25% of market value per day is paid to the wrongfully accused.

  6. Consider the sorry state of black political leadership in this country. Here is the Congressional Black Caucus attacking Rand Paul for not supporting Lynch for AG.…..opposition

    Lynch has as a US attorney done real harm to any number of black people in this country, shows no remorse for doing it, and gives every indication she will continue doing so as AG. Meanwhile, if Paul ever got his way black people would benefit in real and significant ways.

    Since Lynch is a Democrat and black, the Caucus will of course defend her. Black people’s job apparently is to suffer for the Democratic cause. They should be happy to suffer so white Democrats and various black “leaders” can be in charge.

    1. “Meanwhile, if Paul ever got his way black people would benefit in real and significant ways.”

      Please enumerate these real and significant ways. I would like to see your list.

      1. Two words, the drug war. If Ron Paul got his way there would be thousands of black people no longer imprisoned.

        Since you are probably a white Prog, that though no doubt scares and appalls you. Those of us who are not racist and actually car about black people as something besides props in the morality play going on in our heads, that would be a really great thing.

      2. Uhhh, I’ll start with the drug war.

        1. Damn John,got me while I was logging in.

      3. He would allow individual states to make their own drug laws, such as mandating the death penalty for drug dealers. It would help black drug dealers by getting rid of the competition. Also he would allow states to ban abortion, which would help black people by giving them more children, which helps with their welfare benefits. Some people actually think there’s a difference between a statist and a ‘Statist.’

        1. My God, we might have more black people being born. That is horrible.

          You realize what a horrible racist you are? You hate black people so much, you think fewer of them being born is some kind of wonderful thing.

          You are a sick stupid fuck choad.

      4. Oh and also, John would be really happy if Ron Paul got elected, so a lot more black guys would get sucked off.

        1. Points for being succinct, but the nut-tap attempt was poorly executed and the overall score suffered from naif clumsiness.


          I do see potential for improvement. Keep trying!

  7. instead of changing where the money goes the laws should changed so nothing is forfeited until after conviction. of course that would be following the constitution and we can’t follow that old rag anymore.

  8. “The case is United States of America vs. Real Property Located at 2601 W. Ball Road. The name is revealing for two reasons. First, the government is not taking the property’s owner to court, but is suing the actual property. Officials need only show the property was used in the commission of a crime, not prove wrongdoing by its owners.”

    OK, I’m no lawyer, but I was under the impression that to convict somebody of a crime, you needed to prove intent. How can the building have intent? And if it CAN, then you better hide your guns.

  9. How long is it going to take before some poor schmoo, driven to ruin by asset forfeiture, decides to commit suicide in a way that takes some of his tormenters with him?

    And when it happens, these greedy sonsofbitches are going to have the unmitigated gall to be SURPRISED.

    1. I’m surprised that we don’t hear a story like this everyday.

    2. They will just pass more restrictions to fuck with the little people. And name some government place after the deceased.

  10. Why should they seek justice? Justice is simply re-balancing the equation, ensuring that the $100 stolen is repaid (likely with interest due to lack of ability of the victim to use and court costs).

    In the end, all that happens it the victim is allowed to demand their stolen property back. There is no profit there.

    No, no, much better to simply have the government take the place of the victim and claim that you have hurt “society” instead. Then they can take the guilty’s life and liberty and the victim will still have nothing whatsoever.

    Except that the victim will have to pay for the guilty’s prison costs.

    Many libertarians also ascribe to that understanding of justice and cannot see how illogical it is…

    1. Oh, I forgot, instead of giving the guilty’s stuff to the victim, the state takes it for themselves. That sounds just, right?

  11. we can stop this easily. We know who our local officials are. all we have to do is set up a posse, marched to their house and tar and feather them. if they think they can steal off of us law-abiding citizens, we just need to put the fear of God into them. I am getting so sick and tired of this government thinking they are the ones in control, sorry its we the people.

    1. ” I am getting so sick and tired of this government thinking they are the ones in control, sorry its we the people.”

      Can I have a hit of whatever you’re smoking?

      They are the human ranchers. We are their cattle.

      Say it with me now.


      There, now doesn’t it feel better to just accept the truth?

  12. Most asset seizures are done under the pretense of the “War On Drugs”. To stop this thievery the feds need to make rules governing the locals.
    Am I the only one who believes the “War On Drugs is an act of sedition? It was started by Richard Nixon, who thought being president put him “above the law”

    1. let me restate that
      In order to stop this thievery we need to stop the “War On Drugs” and the feds need to make rules governing the locals.

  13. Eric Holder, being an Obama Apparatchik, is a crock, a double-talker. The feds either cannot or will not do anything to check the local antics of the Civil Asset Forfeiture racket, which brings us to the following point.

    It is up to the citizenry to raise unmitigated hell with their local and state elected officials, who do have the power and capability to put this organized theft to a stop. Strikes me that the story ends there, in the hands of Mr.and Mrs. Every Person.

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  15. One of the most egregious, disgusting, sick displays of “asset forfeiture” can be found on I40 between Memphis and Nashville.

    Like pedophiles and rapists waiting for their next meal, this stretch of interstate is loaded with every level?.city?county?state?federal?employee salivating for their next encounter.

    That this shit exists in this country says a lot about ourselves. We should be ashamed.

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