by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Jacob Sullum explains at Reason.com why President Trump’s comments about civil asset forfeiture should cause concerns.
Trump’s knee-jerk support for civil asset forfeiture is troubling, especially in light of a growing bipartisan consensus that the practice should be reformed or abolished because it hurts innocent property owners and warps law enforcement priorities. Worse, the White House transcript of the president’s remarks about forfeiture shows he literally does not know what he is talking about, which suggests this “law and order” president is happy to go along with whatever cops want, even if he has no idea what it is.
Jefferson County, Kentucky, Sheriff John Aubrey broaches the subject of forfeiture, complaining that “people want to say we’re taking money and without due process.” According to Aubrey, “That’s not true. We take money from dope dealers.” Such assurances should be viewed with great skepticism, since civil forfeiture lets cops fund their own budgets by confiscating property they claim is connected to criminal activity. The government need not charge the owner, let alone convict him, and may not have to offer any evidence at all, since challenging forfeitures is often prohibitively expensive. …
… Eventually Trump seems to get that it’s money (or other assets) the cops are taking, but he still assumes it’s money lying next to a huge stash of drugs—as opposed to, say, the savings of a hapless college student, the winnings of innocent poker players, or the bank account of a convenience store owner whose deposits the IRS deemed suspiciously small. Trump is baffled as to why anyone would want to stop the cops from taking drug dealers’ profits.
Aubrey and Boente, who obviously know better, are not about to enlighten Trump, since they both have a financial interest in promoting forfeiture, which helps fund their budgets. Aubrey leaves the impression that it’s only bad guys who lose their property, saying anyone who claims otherwise is just “mak[ing] up stories.” Boente leaves the reasons for the “pressure” and “criticism” utterly mysterious. And when Trump asks a roomful of cops and prosecutors if they “even understand the other side of it,” it is hardly surprising that no one pipes up to explain the critics’ arguments. By the time Rockwall County, Texas, Sheriff Harold Eavenson mentions a state senator “who was talking about introducing legislation to require conviction before we can receive their forfeiture,” Trump is automatically outraged: “Can you believe that?” It’s the greedy leading the blind.