Sarah Stillman at the New Yorker has a long, well-written article on asset forfeiture. If you haven’t previously been exposed to civil forfeiture, the long story short is that the government can seize any of your property at any time based solely on suspicion that it was somehow involved in a crime — and keep it even if charges are never filed against you, or if you are found innocent.
This is genuinely a thing that can happen. Read the article, or search the subject.
It is possible to get your property returned, but the rules are arcane and, as Stillman’s article documents, the possibilities for abuse are enormous. Two points on this subject:
- As we have previously discussed on this blog, government agencies seek profit. Many people analyze the world through the lens of “corporations seek profit and thus are incentivized to do unscrupulous things to maximize the profit” (which is true), “but the government doesn’t and thus is more reliably altruistic” (which is at least partially — and I’d say mostly — false). Stillman’s article does an excellent job making clear how much of bad behavior around asset forfeiture is driven by nothing more than a desire for revenue, but keep in mind the larger picture that this is far from the only perverse way that government agencies can seek revenue.
- Note how privilege plays into asset forfeiture, how the police departments seek out people who can be victimized in a relatively low-risk way. One of the ways that the elite has always hidden their abuses from the sort of broad middle of the people who could unseat them is to focus their abuses on powerless groups.