Yesterday through tomorrow, the Washington Post is publishing an investigative series about a multi-billion dollar law enforcement industry, property forfeiture. Part One is available here, and Part Two is available here.
While taking criminally-derived property from convicted felons might make sense, property forfeiture does not always require proof of criminal activity. In fact, once police make certain claims to private property as a “civil” matter, it becomes the citizen’s burden to prove that the property was not involved in criminal activity.
The Post’s series speaks with law enforcement, which contends that it goes up to the line of illegality but doesn’t cross it. It speaks with the private companies contracted to teach law enforcement agencies who to take property from, and how. And it speaks with several average folks never convicted of any crimes, but who still had their property taken because – well, because law enforcement wanted it, Fifth Amendment be damned.
Property forfeitures after criminal convictions are one thing. But when law enforcement is permitted to take property and keep it, unless the citizen hires a lawyer and proves her innocence – months, or years later – the industry has gone too far. If ever there was an issue to contract your Congressperson about, it is police claiming a right to take your stuff without a warrant, without cause, and without proof of any wrong-doing.