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The asset forfeiture realm: a problematic sphere

On Behalf of | Dec 22, 2021 | Criminal defense | 0 comments

Here’s a kid-linked playground scenario that we suggest can be used to illustrate a very real problem in the adult world.

Imagine that you’re back in elementary school and outside during recess. A pushy and somewhat intimidating kid comes over and takes your ball, claiming it as bounty for a toy of his you allegedly stole.

You did no such thing and managed to clear the matter up.

Aside from a bit of stress, no harm done, right? After all, you will get your ball back.

Won’t you?

Asset forfeiture: police-enriching practice, punitive sting

Let’s imagine that the above-cited innocent child does not get his ball back. Such outcomes happen all the time.

Even in the adult world, and pursuant to a widespread police practice termed “asset forfeiture.”

Here’s how that works and sometimes plays out. Law enforcers claim that gains from unlawful activity – for example, drug trafficking, money laundering or some other crime – were used to acquire other assets, like a house, car, boat or sizable amount of cash. Authorities claim the right to lawfully seize any/all ill-gotten gains under the asset forfeiture doctrine. Proceeds from those gains are prized and used by enforcement agencies across the country.

Here’s a problem, though: What if an alleged wrongdoer is actually innocent of any crime? And what if that is backed up by a not-guilty outcome or dismissal of charges?

Like the above-described kid, a wrongly deprived adult should get his property back. Notwithstanding the ethics of that, though, police departments often balk at returning what they have taken, especially since the forfeitures mean additional money in the budget.