I agree with Clayton Cramer that civil forfeiture laws are unjust and scary.

I am pretty hostile to civil forfeiture of property--where the government seizes something, and claims that it was used in a criminal act. Unlike a criminal prosecution, where the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a moral certainty that a person has committed a crime, with civil forfeiture, the government grabs the property, and says, "We only need a preponderance of evidence. If you disagree, you are welcome to file suit and try and prove us wrong."

In many California counties, if the police seize a gun--even if they later realize that there was no crime involved--they simply will not return a gun to the owner. You want a $400 gun back? Go hire a lawyer, and spend thousands of dollars trying to get it back. ...

There's a little problem, however: what if the police are wrong? I remember seeing a disturbing news show some years ago in which they interviewed a lot of people who had money taken from them by the police under civil forfeiture who were clearly not criminals. One of them was an orchid grower. It is a cash business. He had no criminal history. He broke no laws. The government didn't even make a small attempt at charging him with any crime--and he was out $9,000. They had a bunch of cases like this, where there was simply no reason to assume that this person was criminal.

Even worse, the civil forfeiture thing often leads to raids that make no sense--and get people killed. One of them was Donald Scott, shot to death in his Malibu home some years ago because the National Park Service wanted his land--and those accommodating sorts at the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department flew over his land, decided that he was growing marijuana there, and did a (depending on who you believe) no-knock raid--and shot him to death. (By the way, there's gobs of documentation on this case--I picked that particular account, but I read many of the news stories at the time about it. The only thing that made this one special is that Mr. Scott was rich--usually the victims of these crimes are poor or middle class.)

That's why it's important to never allow drugs or other illegal substances into your car or onto your property. Cops can seize anything they want, even if the owner isn't the one involved with illegal activities.



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