Vice Squad
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Due Processless in Seattle

It is so much easier to deter crime by punishing those you suspect of having committed a crime, rather than going to all the rigmarole of actually, you know, convicting them of a crime. This fact has finally come to the attention of Seattle, which hopes to seize the cars of folks who are suspected of soliciting prostitutes. The city attorney doesn't even hide the fact that it is a punishment intended to deter (though, um, wouldn't punishing unconvicted individuals be, you know, unconstitutional)?: "'The positive thing about forfeiture is it would deter the guys who pick up street prostitutes,' said City Attorney Tom Carr, whose office is studying the legislation."

Incidentally, although I do believe that this measure violates the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, I would be against it even if current Constitutional interpretation were to disagree: even if Constitutional, it is a bad idea. Asset forfeiture skews the priorities of law enforcement, away from those crimes that are most socially costly, towards those that are most lucrative to the law enforcement agency. The linked article offers the view of an assistant city attorney that the city would not be making money, that the forfeited and then sold assets would only cover the city's costs, with the remainder going to social services. But what costs they must have!: "Local law enforcement would retain as much as 90 percent of the money received by the seizure and sale, with the rest to be deposited into a statewide account set up to prevent prostitution."

Vice Squad has long been aghast at civil asset forfeiture provisions which present the skimpiest of quasi-legal fig leaves for covering up the punishment of people who have not been convicted of any crime.

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