There is no excuse for civil asset forfeiture whenever the owner of any property (“asset”) seized and set for forfeiture by the state is within the personal jurisdiction of the state. None. And yet most instances of civil asset forfeiture in today’s America occur when the owners of the property are within the government’s in personam jurisdiction. The too-convenient legal fiction that the property, rather than the property’s owner or possessor, is the wrongdoer is used by the state to circumvent many, perhaps most, of the procedural restrictions (such as trial by jury) designed to protect innocent people from overreaching government officials. (I do not here address the question of whether or not civil asset forfeiture is justified when the owner of the asset is outside of the state’s jurisdiction.)
Back in the mid-1990s, Adam Pritchard and I wrote a few articles on civil asset forfeiture (such as this one), as well as this op-ed that was originally published in the Washington Times. I will try soon to make available Adam’s and my longer law-review essays on this matter.
Civil asset forfeiture, certainly as used today in the United States, is a crime. A rather vile crime, at that. Read, for example, George Will’s column in today’s Washington Post. Or this 2010 study by the Institute for Justice (which Will links to in his column.) And yet governments practice civil asset forfeiture routinely, mostly in the name of fighting the misnamed “war on drugs.”
Any agency that engages in such activities is uncivilized. To trust such an agency with money and power is folly.