I discussed civil asset forfeiture in “Spoils of War” and also discussed the IRS seizure of assets for “structuring” deposits in “Repeal the Bill of Rights” under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. I won’t say these policies should be eliminated because, in some cases, they do serve to disrupt cash flow for criminal activities, however when the NYPD boasts that they seized more cash than they can count they sound more like Blackbeard’s pirates than civil servants. When innocent citizens have to file expensive lawsuits to recover wrongfully seized property the system is broken, so let’s fix it. Here’s one way.
Assets seized from people not charged with a crime must be returned to the owner within one business day if criminal charges are not filed within a reasonable time, e.g., 48-72 hours.
Assets seized from people charged with a crime must be held in escrow pending outcome of the trial. If the defendant is found “not guilty” the assets must be returned to the owner. If the asset was cash it must have been held in an interest-bearing account and the cash returned with accrued interest. If lawfully acquired real property (buildings, vehicles, firearms, etc.) was seized the state must preserve and maintain that property such that it can be returned intact and without loss. If the individual is found “guilty” the judge will determine what happens to the seized property.
I think this is a reasonable balance between the needs of law enforcement to disrupt criminal activity and the rights of citizens to keep their lawfully acquired property. When police departments consider themselves to be profit centers the entire concept of law enforcement is maligned.