For those of you who are new to this concept, asset forfeiture by definition is the confiscation of assets believed to be proceeds of crime or the alleged instruments of crime. By seizing assets, police agencies have the right to sell the obtained property and use the money to increase their budgets. Additionally, assets may be seized without the police charging someone with a crime. With this practice stems many ethical issues.
How many of you with a car let friends borrow it? I do. However, after first being introduced to this topic in CJS 338 with Dr. Weisheit I am more hesitant. This is because if your friends are busted driving your car with drugs on them, the police technically have the right to seize your car. As an innocent owner having nothing to do with the crime, you would want to argue that the car was just being borrowed and would demand it back. However this would not work because in the case of asset forfeiture, assets have guilt. I find this to be extremely interesting because inanimate objects can be pinned with guilt. Once possessed, police agencies have no obligation to keep the assets in 'good' condition. If you are lucky enough to get your car back, it may be in horrible condition. Of course, this is just one example of the many ways this concept is practiced within agencies. Also, it should be noted that assets incorporate a wide spectrum beyond cars.
The following is a real life example of how asset forfeiture is abused.
The reporters in the previous clip expose the abuse of power that some Tennessee police agencies are participating in. In this segment, police agencies are operating outside their jurisdiction to pull over certain vehicles in the hopes of confiscating large sums of money with power granted to them through newly enacted legislation. Interstate 40 is believed to be a major drug route that runs east and west through Tennessee. Since an enormous amount of drugs comes to the state through Mexico, one would think that police agencies would focus on the eastbound side of Interstate-40. This, however, is not the case. Reports show that the majority of the stops and confiscations are made on the westbound side of interstate 40. Why is this? Reporters say it is because the police agencies involved would rather have the money gained from drug trafficking than to prevent it altogether. “Law enforcement has lost its way. Law enforcement is supposed to be about getting the bad guys. It’s not supposed to be about making money.” Supporters of this practice argue that the goal of focusing on the monetary side of drug trafficking strains the dealer's and supplier's pocketbooks. This can potentially have a more substantial impact on the war on drugs.
Personally, I support asset forfeiture as long as it is a by-product of great police work. In my opinion, there is no better way to use the money other than to enhance our nation's police departments. Unfortunately, as shown in the video, the potential for monetary gains may be too tempting for some departments.