Asset forfeiture roundup

  • Press accounts have exposed a pattern of police stops of out of state motorists in rural Tennessee, in which police search motorists’ cars and then confiscate large sums of money they find on the presumption that it is criminal-related. Now, in Henry, Tennessee — named after Patrick Henry, of “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” fame — the police chief has told the town he needs a police dog because “the city is missing out on possible revenues” [dog testimonials; more Tennessee, via Eapen Thampy of Americans for Forfeiture Reform, guestblogging last month at Radley Balko’s Agitator site]
  • Also via Thampy, economically hard-hit Butte County, California, north of Sacramento, has been filling its budget hole through pot-grower busts accompanied by aggressive forfeitures; in a perhaps not unrelated phenomenon, the county snatches kids from parents at an exceedingly high rate. More on child protective services in Butte County at the Chico News & Review (& more: Angela Bacca, SKUNK).
  • Via Ilya Somin, this from a Steven Greenhut column:

    Few groups of “sinners” were singled out in biblical accounts more than “tax collectors,” who were not merely state agents collecting revenues that taxpayers rightfully owed to the government. They were the source of particular loathing because they were extortionists, who profited personally by shaking down as much money from citizens as possible…

    The Gospel accounts provide an early lesson in the danger of marrying the profit motive with governmental power. The possibility for abuse is great. Yet throughout the United States, government agencies increasingly rely on “civil forfeiture” to bolster their strained budgets. The more assets these modern-day tax collectors seize, the more money they have for new equipment and other things….

  • From reader John Brewer, on an Ohio gardening-equipment seizure: “Structurally, it seems even worse to have the judge who originally signed the search warrant have a say in what gets done with the confiscated stuff than it does for the cops/DA to get it, despite the cute-and-cuddly outcome here.”
  • Tomorrow’s abuses today: the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms [BATF] has just been given a major enhancement to its forfeiture powers. [David Kopel/Volokh]
  • For more information on this subject, check out the many online resources offered by the Cato Institute; Cato scholars took an early interest in exposing the problems of civil and criminal asset forfeiture, and our focus on the issue continues to this day. More: Scott Greenfield. (& Tim Lynch,


  • The “personification” doctrine that is used to justify forfeiture law is an unhappy amalgam of common law deodand (the instrument of a man’s death is forfeit to the king), the Navigation Acts of the 18th century, the Confiscation Acts of the American Civil War, and the liquor control laws of the 1840s and later. American forfeiture law confuses punitive with non-punitive purposes. See James R. Maxeiner, Bane of American Forfeiture Law, Banished at Last? , 62 Cornell L. Rev. 768 (1977). Available at SSRN:

    In other countries, the punitive/non-punitive distinction is clearly made. Property is forfeit for punitive purposes only when there is culpability. See James R. Maxeiner, Constitutionalizing Forfeiture Law—The German Example, 27 Am. J. Comp. L. 635 (1979). Available at SSRN:

  • “The Government is the only thing we all belong to” – or we will after the next round of civil forfeitures by whatever agency is working your neighborhood.

  • I think we’re to the point that any supporter of the drug war should be considered an enemy of civil rights.

  • […] Brown interviews me for Cato’s podcast series on some of the stories in yesterday’s post. […]

  • […] Olson has a great roundup of coverage on asset forfeiture practices by local governments around the […]

  • […] RoundupSeptember 9, 2012 @ 8:42 PM by Tim Lynch TweetMy Cato colleague, Walter Olson, has a nice roundup on civil asset forfeiture news and posts over at Overlawyered.For more, view this Cato event. Categories: Miscellaneous | […]

  • some forfeiture laws violate the equal protection clause of our States and Federal Constitutions…….A person who owns a multi million dollar house does not have to forfeit said real property but a person, who owns a house valued within six times the maximum authorized statutory fine, can have said real property forfeited and still no criminal charges need be levied and all information obtain during these civil forfeitures can and will be used against you, in a criminal case .

    does anyone know the full effects of overturning Coffey v. United States – 116 U.S. 427 (1886) ????????

  • @James Maxeiner ….., THANKS FOR THE LINKS TO YOUR SCHOLARLY WORK….I find the first one every useful in getting my head around these forfeiture laws and I find the war time necessity argument to be a good excuse as to the reasons why this forfeiture laws or rules of court are so contradictory to good sense. I have decided to openly wage a rhetorical war on the notion of deodand though there may be a war time necessity for it.

  • […] property from someone who has never been convicted or even charged with any crime.” Earlier here and (podcast) here. […]

  • Are Police Asset Forfeiture Squads Out of Control?
    Like a spreading plague, media reports of Police using Civil Asset Forfeiture to seize property from innocent owners is frightening off buyers of motels, bars, restaurants; residential rental property. Investors and property owners increasingly believe they are sitting ducks for police to confiscate their property. Many investors have noted the publicized civil forfeiture of Motel Caswell by Federal & Local Law Enforcement Agencies from the Caswell family that owned and operated the motel for two generations. The Caswells cooperated with police to abate infrequent drug problems at their motel caused by guests. The family Motel was free and clear and perhaps provided a police target for asset forfeiture. See: “United States v. 434 Main Street, Tewksbury, Mass.”

    Bars, restaurant and rental property owners Increasingly fear police; strongly believe that police can make it a point—to shut down or seize any bar, restaurant, motel or residential rental property by arresting a customer or tenant unbeknownst to the owner—possessing or distributing drugs; or undercover police / informants can steer drug sales or buys onto private property to forfeit it. Some owners of bars, restaurants and rental property become police informants, report on their customers—in the erroneous belief police won’t target their business or property. There are more than 350 laws and violations that can subject property to government asset forfeiture. Government civil asset forfeiture requires only a civil preponderance of evidence for police to forfeit property, little more than hearsay. No one need be charged with a crime. Corrupt Police can create the hearsay. If police civil forfeiture abuse is not brought under control it is foreseeable many Americans will be afraid to own real and personal property that comes in contact with the public.

    It is understandable that more business and rental property owners fear police. Almost every week, national news reports police, including high-ranking police and sheriffs being arrested for selling drugs, robbing, extorting or protecting drug dealers, planting evidence; filing false reports to send innocent persons to prison.