Older brothers sometimes invent dubious excuses to avoid being punished for their bad behavior. They’ll claim, for example, that it was the baseball bat—not they—that hit their little brother.
Most parents instinctively reject this idea that inanimate objects can be guilty of crimes, but that is precisely what drives the law enforcement practice known as asset forfeiture.
Congressman Henry Hyde of Illinois has observed that in a recent year, federal and state police in Michigan alone used asset forfeiture laws over 9,000 times to confiscate more than 14 million dollars’ worth of private property from Michigan citizens.
Because it’s the property itself that is presumed to be guilty, none of these owners is granted the rights normally available to accused persons—in fact, most are never even charged with any crime.
Though forfeiture laws were originally intended to confiscate the profits of drug kingpins, Congressman John Conyers of Detroit notes that it’s ordinary, law-abiding citizens who are increasingly threatened by forfeiture.
The protection of private property rights is one of the fundamental obligations of government. Asset forfeiture jeopardizes these rights. It is time to reform this un-American practice and return due process under law to all citizens.
For the Mackinac Center, this is Catherine Martin.