I was startled — though not entirely surprised — to read a recent Justice Department report on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s practice of confiscating cash and other assets from individuals suspected of committing, but not charged with, drug crimes.
The Washington Post summed up the report in this way:
Since 2007, the report found, the DEA has seized more than $4 billion in cash from people suspected of involvement with the drug trade. But 81 percent of those seizures, totaling $3.2 billion, were conducted administratively, meaning no civil or criminal charges were brought against the owners of the cash and no judicial review of the seizures ever occurred.
That total does not include the dollar value of other seized assets, like cars, homes, electronics and clothing.
These seizures are all legal under the controversial practice of civil asset forfeiture, which allows authorities to take cash, contraband and property from people suspected of crime. But the practice does not require authorities to obtain a criminal conviction, and it allows departments to keep seized cash and property for themselves unless individuals successfully challenge the forfeiture in court.
This strikes me as the closest the justice system comes to a police state. In many cases, the asset loss is more damaging to a person than any punishment resulting from a criminal conviction.
This also strikes me as something that doesn’t work too many people up until it happens to them.