Why Cops Can (and Do) Take People's Stuff
'Civil forfeiture' fills law enforcement coffers every year
By Neal Colgrass, Newser Staff
Posted Aug 5, 2013 9:52 AM CDT
Updated Aug 10, 2013 12:25 PM CDT
A police officer has pulled you over; civil forfeiture may ensue.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – A drive through Tenaha, Texas, can cost you thousands of dollars—because police in this sleepy town are known for pulling over out-of-state cars and confiscating anything they want. Highway robbery? Maybe, but it's called "civil forfeiture," a legal practice that allows police to take money or property on the suspicion it was obtained illicitly. As Sarah Stillman writes in the New Yorker, the forfeitures disproportionately involve racial minorities suspected of dealing drugs. They end up losing cash, jewelry, cars, you name it, with no real hope of getting it back.

Tenaha's forfeitures may be infamous, but the practice runs nationwide. The Justice Department raked in nearly $4.2 billion in forfeitures last year, and states like Texas, Georgia, and Virginia barely restrict how law enforcement agencies can use the money. Scandals and a class-action lawsuit have ensued, but many poor Americans still face the prospect of devastating losses. "I don't even know what I'd do, being without a home in my condition," says an elderly Philadelphia man who may forfeit his house, because his son allegedly sold $60 of pot to an informant. "It's scary, just even thinking about it." Click for Stillman's full piece.

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Aug 12, 2013 3:58 PM CDT
This happened to my Brother when he was in his 20's driving through the South. He'd just sold a used car to a friend of his a week or so prior to his road trip and the police stopped him and confiscated the $2,000 he had on him from the sale of this other vehicle. It never occurred to him to keep a receipt for selling an old, used car to a friend and he had no way of proving why he had so much cash on him. Of course, it didn't help that my Black Brother was traveling with his White girlfriend. He never saw that cash again. Because really, who's gonna take a chance and drive from California back out to a place that'd take your money because you couldn't prove how you made it and hope that the receipt you produce isn't labeled as a forgery or somehow fraudulently obtained? I suppose I should just be grateful that they didn't find some reason to shoot him or jam a plunger up his ass. They can call it what they want, but it's corruption and abuse of power, plain and simple and business as usual.
Aug 11, 2013 7:52 PM CDT
At the very least, the law should clearly state, that any civil forfeiture be held in escrow, pending a verdict of the charges being levied against the individual who is accused of the crime. Probable cause should also have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This police state is getting out of hand.
Aug 11, 2013 9:41 AM CDT
This is one of the worst things that Pigs can do without proof or probable cause. People should start taking policeman's property under citizen's arrest and let the courts deal with it. Police are our servants not our masters. Fight back and resist police criminality. Known theft by police and the Feds must be dealt with severely and publicly.