Civil asset forfeiture laws, which allow police to seize property without trial, are frequently justified as tools to seize millions from kingpins. A new study reveals the median amount taken is as low as $369 in some states.
by Ian MacDougall for ProPublica
In 2015, New Mexico lawmakers unanimously passed a bill to all but end civil asset forfeiture, the process that lets police keep cash or property they seize, even if they never charge the owner with a crime, so long as they suspect that it’s linked to criminal activity. High-profile lawsuits and press attention had prompted some states to reexamine their forfeiture laws.
Law enforcement officials howled in outrage. In New Mexico, sheriffs and prosecutors implored the governor to veto the legislation. Eliminating civil forfeiture, they argued, would hand the bad guys a win and put public safety at risk. “You’ll get less law enforcement,” predicted the chair of the state sheriffs’ association, Ken Christesen, who noted that police departments use forfeitures to help fund their budgets. (The bill still allowed forfeiture, but only through criminal court, which imposes a much more stringent burden of proof on prosecutors than its civil counterpart.)
Criminal organizations would grow richer and more powerful, ...