If you’ve been seeing headlines about something called “civil asset forfeiture” and wondered what all the fuss is about, you could do worse than John Oliver’s report above. It’s funny, and would be funnier if the subject matter weren’t so gob-smackingly vile.
Basically, civil asset forfeiture is a process through which the police can seize your stuff – your home, your car, your money, etc. – if they suspect it’s been used in a crime. You must then get it back through an arduous legal process in which the burden is on you to prove the innocence of your stuff.
To be clear, having your stuff seized does not require you to be convicted or even accused of a crime. All police need is a preponderance of evidence, which is an extremely low legal standard.
What’s more, in some parts of the country (Philadelphia, specifically) the legal process through which you’re supposed to prove the innocence of your stuff isn’t even presided over by a judge. Instead, you deal directly with a prosecutor.
So not only is it a “guilty until proven innocent” situation, but the person presiding over at least the first part of the appeal process is anything but disinterested.
Because the most disgusting part of civil asset forfeiture is that cops get to keep the money. Sometimes it goes toward things like restitution for crimes, but more often than not it goes directly into law enforcement budgets.
At the beginning of his segment, Oliver says this sort of kleptocracy is the sort of thing we usually make fun of other countries for. Except that this time it’s happening in America, and it’s wrong. Not only is it an affront to due process and property rights, but it undermines our respect for law enforcement.