Civil Asset Forfeiture

CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE….This particular passage from David Greenberg’s (very good) piece about Rudy Giuliani’s illiberal instincts is getting a lot of play in the lefty blogosphere:

Beyond religious issues, a second conservative trait defined Giuliani’s tenure: his Cheney-esque appetite for executive power. In 1999, for example, he directed (without the City Council’s permission) the police to permanently confiscate the cars of people charged with drunken driving — even if the suspects were later acquitted.

That’s a bad deal, but in fairness to Giuliani it’s hardly unique to him. Civil asset forfeiture became all the rage among law enforcement during the 90s, and Giuliani was just riding the wave. The idea behind it is that even if someone is acquitted of a criminal act, the state can still seize their property based on mere probable cause that the property was criminally used. The defendant, even though he was found innocent of the underlying crime, can’t get his property back unless he goes to court and wins a civil case against the state. There’s no presumption of innocence and no need for a unanimous verdict.

Years ago, when I first heard about this, I was appalled. I still am. Even now that I’ve read enough to understand the legal theory that supports it, I remain appalled. It’s the kind of thing that’s almost enough to make a libertarian out of me.

(But not quite. Don’t get excited, my libertarian friends.)