Revisiting A Wrong: Civil Forfeiture

Thomas Warns*

Last month this author wrote about how many police forces are "policing for profit" and abusing civil forfeiture in order to fund their operations. Nick Sibilla at Forbes also recently wrote a thoughtful article about cops in Texas that are abusing civil forfeiture. 

While I don't want to rehash Mr. Sibilla's article in its entirety (or my previous one), it is valuable to highlight the quote which Mr. Sibilla chooses to end his article with. While discussing potential reforms to civil forfeiture, he also quotes Justice Willett, who wrote a scathing dissent of the Supreme Court of Texas' decision not to hear a case on civil forfeiture. The Justice succinctly wrote "police power cannot go unpoliced."

The quote is valuable because it serves to remind us that although police officers are indispensable parts of society as guardians for the public at large, they are still human beings who are prone to mistakes. Further, the current structure of civil forfeiture laws in many states create an incentive for police officers to push the limits on what is permissible, knowing that opposition will be tough to mount. If the citizenry are not active in pushing back against abuse of police power, then law enforcement will continue to push harder and harder at the margins until they are taking actions that fail the basic premise for their existence, which is broadly "to protect and serve."

It also felt appropriate to revisit the problem of civil forfeiture abuse because of this astonishingly detailed infographic which was posted on blog.arrestrecords.com and sent to the NYU Journal of Law & Liberty. You can find the original post here on their website. The infographic is particularly noteworthy for its helpful comparison of civil forfeiture laws in all fifty states, and at the bottom has some horrifying anecdotes about individuals who were wronged because of civil forfeiture. 

Courtesy of arrestrecords.com. 

Courtesy of arrestrecords.com. 

*Thomas Warns is a J.D. Candidate, class of 2015, at NYU School of law, Editor-in-Chief on the NYU Journal of Law & Liberty , and author of the weekly column "Consider This a Warning."