Vice Squad
Thursday, August 02, 2007
Asset Forfeiture

Last week the California Supreme Court ruled that the cars of people arrested for drug or prostitution offenses could not be seized by municipal governments. The Court didn't say that these seizures violate due process provisions; rather, it said that the municipalities need state legislative blessing before they can go asset hunting. So attempts are already underway to give a legal patina to the whole smelly business. Incidentally, earlier in July, Berkeley found that its own asset forfeiture funds were not the best-managed part of city government.

It's a different story at the federal level, where asset forfeiture is a wonderful and oh-so-fair component of the brilliantly conceived war on drugs. The Attorney General, known for his candor, has willed it so:
...the Asset Forfeiture program has never been stronger.
Established in 1984, the program was created to punish and deter criminal
activity by depriving criminals of their ill-gotten gains and the
instruments of their trade.

More than two decades later the program has surpassed all expectations.
Over $10 billion in assets have been surrendered by criminals, including
more than a billion dollars last year alone. Over and over again,
forfeiture has proven to be a powerful and effective tool in pursuing drug
dealers and in disrupting and dismantling their criminal organizations.
The Attorney General's prepared remarks are not easy reading for anyone with a feeling for the misguidedness of the drug war. But if you can make it to the end, you can read about how the War on Drugs saved a four-year old. Again I find myself asking, is this really the best pro-drug-war anecdote they can come up with? This is a war in its death throes.


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