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It's So Easy to Steal Stuff With Civil Forfeiture That Cops Are Getting Picky

Iowa State PatrolIowa State PatrolThe New York Times listens in on recordings of civil forfeiture seminars and discovers that cops like to take people's stuff, especially if it's really nice:

In one seminar, captured on video in September, Harry S. Connelly Jr., the city attorney of Las Cruces, N.M., called [seizable assets] "little goodies." And then Mr. Connelly described how officers in his jurisdiction could not wait to seize one man's "exotic vehicle" outside a local bar.

"A guy drives up in a 2008 Mercedes, brand new," he explained. "Just so beautiful, I mean, the cops were undercover, and they were just like 'Ahhhh.' And he gets out, and he's just reeking of alcohol. And it's like, 'Oh, my goodness, we can hardly wait.'"

As that case illustrates, civil forfeiture—which allows police to take property allegedly linked to a crime without going to the trouble of charging, let alone convicting, the owner—is not just for drug offenses anymore. It also can be used to grab cars and other assets that police say are connected to offenses such as drunk driving, shoplifting, solicitation of prostitutes, and statutory rape. The opportunities for such legal theft are so numerous, in fact, that cops are getting picky:

The seminars offered police officers some useful tips on seizing property from suspected criminals. Don’t bother with jewelry (too hard to dispose of) and computers ("everybody’s got one already"), the experts counseled. Do go after flat screen TVs, cash and cars. Especially nice cars....

In New Jersey, the police and prosecutors are allowed to use cars, cash and other seized goods; the rest must be sold at auction. Cellphones and jewelry, [a New Jersey prosecutor] said, are not worth the bother. Flat screen televisions, however, "are very popular with the police departments," he said.

The Times notes that grabbing cars can result in "widely varied penalties," since "one drunken driver could lose a $100,000 luxury car, while another forfeits a $2,000 clunker." But under civil forfeiture law, losing your car, cash, boat, or house does not count as a penalty, which is why your guilt need not be proven (or even alleged). In fact, "prosecutors estimated that between 50 to 80 percent of the cars seized were driven by someone other than the owner." It's the property that stands accused, not the owner.

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  • sarcasmic||

    In fact, "prosecutors estimated that between 50 to 80 percent of the cars seized were driven by someone other than the owner."

    Lever lend your car to anyone.

  • Andrew S.||

    This includes your parent, or child, or spouse. Because it's not like the government gives a crap about the people whose property is seized.

  • Brian D||

    "Sorry, sir, we've linked your stolen Ferrari to a crime: auto theft. Hand over the keys now, peon."

  • Robert||

    You know, in theory they could do just that, and make you sue to get it back.

  • masculistman||

    I don't think it remain just a theory for long. The war on drugs is a good example of why Reagan sucked at domestic policy.

    Anyone remember that cop show,The Nasty Boys about narcotics cops who trampled all over the Constitution: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17cfzLVTsMU

  • Paul.||

    In one seminar, captured on video in September, Harry S. Connelly Jr., the city attorney of Las Cruces, N.M.,

    Oh jesus christ. I know way more about his town than is healthy.

  • masculistman||

    Do tell.

  • RAHeinlein||

  • ||

    Is she gonna bring her iron pipe?

  • Rhywun||

    So Libya and Russia can lecture us on human rights again?

  • Paul.||

    No, this time we get Iran and North Korea.

  • BiMonSciFiCon||

    How long until we see a Salon article blaming libertarians for civil forfeiture?

  • ||

    Well, if only the government was big enough to reign itself in, the problems would all be solved. They just don't have the funding to stop this abuse. You get what you pay for.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    When my house was burgled, the cops' genius CSI team left their camera behind. When I returned the camera the cop was so grateful, and I was like, what *else* would I do with the camera besides give it back? Apparently there's a reason thieving cops are startled to find other people not acting like thieves.

  • The Hyperbole||

    you got a CSI team? I got one fat deputy, who looked around and said "Sucks to be you"* and left. Must be nice being Notorious.

    *not verbatim, but pretty damn near.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    It was CSI: Chelm (Apologies to Isaac Bashevis Singer)

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    We've cracked the case, sir - this is the work of thieves!

  • ||

    Same here. Cops didn't give a shit. There is no money in solving crimes like that. They are wasting their time if they aren't out writing up finable offenses.

    I will tell the story again because it is funny and I told it last night when most were gone.

    I had brought back a suitcase full of Bolivian cash to use for wall paper. The bills were brand new and quite beautiful, highest quality stuff, but totally worthless.

    I had it in a drawer in the living room. Thieves broke in the house and found the cash. They thought they really hit the jackpot because they took all the cash and left computers, tvs, guns etc.

    My only regret is that I was not in the bank when those dumbasses tried to exchange or deposit the worthless stuff.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    I would be very curious to find out how jewelry and flat screen TVs are in anyway connected to crimes, unless they are stolen property themselves.

  • ||

    You were wearing the jewelry while in the process of drunk driving.

    Thus, the jewelry was used in the commission of a crime.
    It's all so simple.

    I'm shocked that this shit didn't make it to the Supreme Court years ago.

  • Paul.||

    They're the fruits of your criminal enterprise.

  • Robert||

    Usually in those cases they'd be deemed to be the proceeds of crimes. The great thing for them is, once they impute the crime to have generated X amount of income, they can take anything worth X.

  • ||

    But under civil forfeiture law, losing your car, cash, boat, or house does not count as a penalty, which is why your guilt need not be proven (or even alleged).

    But FINING someone $100,000 is a civil punishment.
    Isn't that directly contradictory?
    You can fine someone $100,000 to punish them for a civil offense, but taking a vehicle worth $100,000 from them isn't a punishment?

    How can a fine be a punishment but a loss of an asset of an equivalent value NOT be a punishment?

  • paranoid android||

    I think you know the answer, Hazel. It's starts with an "F" and ends with an "uck you that's why".

  • ||

    You are trying to argue rationally with thieves.

    The answer is Fuck You, thats how.

  • ||

    I'm trying to argue rationality with the courts. How the fuck did this not make it to SCOTUS before it got to this point?

  • Paul.||

    What kind of car you drive, Hazel?

  • Robert||

    It's like if a family member commits a crime and is jailed or executed, that's a loss to you but not a punishment of you. Too bad you had a vehicle that turned crooked; not your fault, just an unfortunate fact of life. Somehow, though, once they auction it off, it becomes innocent again.

  • andcar||

    If you look at any of these cases, they aren't "State of Texas v. Bob Smith." They're "State of Texas v. 2011 Audi VIN WBANxxxxxxxxxx." The tortured legal reasoning is that it's not a punishment for Mr. Smith because he's not even accused of any crime- the state's beef is with his car. Cars don't have the right to an attorney.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    And it's like, oh my goodness, we can hardly wait."

    To get a dangerous driver off the street?

    No, silly, to grab some free shit.

  • Swiss Servator, spare a franc?||

    "Stand and deliver!"

  • Zeb||

    So they don't even have to pretend that the siezed property might be the proceeds of crime anymore? I thought that was the whole justification for asset forfeiture.

  • Paul.||

    Pretending is only phase one.

  • Clown Hunter||

    Who says they've stopped pretending?

  • ||

    Drunk driving is a crime.

    Oh wait, you said "proceeds"?

  • ||

    How the fuck has this not made it to SCOTUS yet again?

  • Robert||

    It could be proceeds or it could be an instrument of a crime.

  • ||

    Ok, I get it, the Mercedes is fair game because it was the "instrument" of his drunk driving.

  • derpules||

    How the hell is asset forfeiture still a thing?

  • JulianTheApostate||

    Because people defer to police judgment, by and large. They think that if someone had their property confiscated they must have done something wrong.

  • Misanthrope||

    The police department/
    is like a crew/
    they do whatever/
    they want to do

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