How Asset Forfeiture Undermines Government’s Legitimacy

April 17, 2021

By Timothy Sandefur, Goldwater Institute |

Civil asset forfeiture—which allows law enforcement officers to seize people’s cash, cars, or other property by claiming it was involved with a crime—is often called “policing for profit,” because police officers and prosecutors can keep the proceeds of these confiscations—and are not required to prove that the owner actually committed a crime. Forfeiture is big business, too: Local, state, and federal officials seize more than $3 billion each year—an amount so large that many law enforcement agencies have become essentially dependent on this outside income. Rather than being funded with tax dollars, these agencies now derive a large portion of their budgets from money taken directly out of the pockets of citizens who are never convicted of, or even charged with, crimes.

The injustice of asset forfeiture has been a subject of debate for several years, but a Goldwater Institute policy paper released today, Predators, Not Protectors: How Asset Forfeiture Undermines the Legitimacy of Government, looks at how forfeiture doesn’t just violate the constitutional rights of due process, but also contradicts the more basic principles of government legitimacy.

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