We’re not exactly strangers to the concept of civil asset forfeiture, but that doesn’t mean it stops being frustrating to read about people having their things stolen for no reason. Take, for example, the car broker highlighted in a recent Atlanta News First article. He was flying from Washington, D.C. to Sacramento, California and had a connection through Atlanta. As he was boarding his flight to Sacramento, officers with the drug task force pulled him aside and proceeded to take $23,850 in cash from one of his bags.
To be clear, having more than $10,000 in your possession is not illegal. There are plenty of perfectly legitimate reasons you might carry that much cash, such as when you’re traveling to buy a car from a private seller. Still, due to civil asset forfeiture laws, cops can just take your money whenever they feel like it. As Dan Alban, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, told Atlanta News First:
So that’s fun. We’d love to believe that the Supreme Court is going to step in and stop this nonsense soon, but something tells us that’s not going to happen. Not while cops remain so powerful and politically influential.
The broker was able to provide receipts that proved he had earned his money legally, and eventually, the court agreed to return his money. Just not all of it. He got $17,887.50 back, but the county still kept $5,962.50. Why? That’s not clear, but we’re going to assume they just wanted it.
There is a strong incentive for law enforcement to try to get as much money as it can into what I would call a slush fund. They can spend the money on whatever they want. And that encourages them to spend the money pursuing more forfeiture dollars. Essentially, it is a self-perpetuating, revenue-generating machine.