At a meeting yesterday with President Donald Trump, sheriffs complained “that they were under pressure to ease the practice” of civil asset forfeiture, that is, seizing cars, houses, and bank accounts whether or not the owners had been convicted of any crime. Per Reuters, Trump “voiced disagreement with lawmakers who want to change asset forfeiture laws” and “said members of the U.S. Congress would ‘get beat up really badly by the voters’ if they interfered with law enforcement’s activities.”
One reason reform of civil asset forfeiture has made rapid progress lately in legislatures around the country, including my own state of Maryland, is that the public strongly disapproves of the current state of the law when it is explained. In December Cato released a polling study on criminal justice issues, led by my colleague Emily Ekins. Among its findings: “Fully 84% of Americans oppose the practice of police taking ‘a person’s money or property that is suspected to have been involved in a drug crime before the person is convicted of a crime.’ Only 16% approve.” The strong majority extends across all groups of respondents, including Republicans (76%) and those with a highly favorable attitude toward police (78%). Asked what should happen with the proceeds of seizures upon conviction, only 24% of the public favored letting local police departments keep the seized goods or cash, while 76% said it should go instead to state-level coffers. which would reduce the incentive for zealous seizure.
The same opinion survey found that 64% of the American public held a favorable view of their local police, a consensus extending across both parties and all major ideological groups. So if the survey is accurate, the American public supports police while opposing civil asset forfeiture. More: statement from Matt Miller, managing attorney of the Texas office of the Institute for Justice.