US Police Can Simply Seize Your Belongings

“Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.” —George Orwell, 1984

In A Nutshell

Regardless of whether or not you have committed a crime (or even been charged with one), in most parts of the United States, police officers may confiscate your belongings under a provision called civil forfeiture. “Probable cause” that your possessions may in some way be connected to perceived criminal activity is sufficient for seizure in most cases. In these cases, the burden of proof of innocence rests with the civilian.

The Whole Bushel

You’re probably aware that if you get caught selling drugs or if the police pull you over trafficking coke across the US-Mexican border, the police can (and will) seize your assets (cash, car, cool hat, etc.). This is called criminal forfeiture and the idea is the police can help fund their crime-fighting by, well, fighting crime. The “catch” with criminal forfeiture is the confiscated property must have been used in the commission of the crime. Not exactly the steadiest stream of income.

So, let’s say you get pulled over for speeding or some other infraction and the citing officer detects a whiff of marijuana or suspects you of possession. A search reveals no contraband, but you do look suspicious. Can that police department take everything in the car and all your cash without arresting you or charging you with a crime? Yes, they certainly can (and do).

The laws which govern this civil forfeiture provide little recourse for property owners. The burden of proof is on the owner to prove any seized property was not connected in any way to any crime. As a result, civil forfeiture is a regular occurrence across much of the nation. And since police departments keep approximately 90 percent of the profits from seized property, the law in its current form effectively incentivizes abuse. Which might explain why in 85 percent of the NYPD’s forfeiture cases the property owner was never even charged with a crime.

So, why don’t property owners challenge these questionable seizures? The “civil” nature of the provision means the government is basically suing you for your stuff, and you need to prove your stuff is innocent. Cases like “The United States vs. One Pearl Necklace” are common. And since your possession is not a person, it has no constitutional rights and thus has no legal right to an attorney. So, if you want your iPod or 500 bucks back, you would need to hire an attorney yourself. And chances are any attorney with the skill to win your stuff back is going to charge legal fees which exceed the value of your confiscated possessions. You could represent yourself, but in most cases the governing law is an arcane beast over a century old which even most uninitiated lawyers and law students struggle to comprehend.

If it sounds like the deck is stacked against the defendant, it’s probably because it is. Civil forfeiture is a convenient, legal way for District Attorneys’ offices and police departments to fund their budgets. While cars and houses are frequently seized, most often the property value is just small enough it makes far more sense for the owner to forget about contesting the forfeiture. But all those small amounts add up, and as a result some states make millions of dollars annually from such forfeitures.

Imagine going to court against the unlimited (compared to your own) resources of the state and trying to prove your iPhone, or car, or even your house is innocent. It really sounds like something from which a citizen should be guaranteed protection.

Show Me The Proof

The New Yorker: Taken
Forbes: Civil Forfeiture Laws And The Continued Assault On Private Property
Gothamist: How The NYPD’s Use Of Civil Forfeiture Laws Robs Innocent New Yorkers
Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution

  • Rijul Ballal

    Odd i could have sworn I heard a thing or two about freedom from that country.

    • Lisa 39

      I heard that also but as a resident i see it less every day.

      • Joseph Wilson

        Only because we’ve given control to a tiny minority who have forgotten who and what they represent.

    • The Ou7law

      U.S. cops are a bunch of pigs that dont give a damn about anyone and beat the hell out of you for no damn reason

      • Liz

        Bullsh!t. Way to stereotype. Not all cops are scumbags. The ones that are should automatically get the max sentence. Like the ones that beat to death the homeless man in CA. Those cops make people think all are like that. Most are not and help victims of crimes or try to stop scumbag criminals . If you feel that way never call on them to assist you. Also the article is misleading. Evidence must still be used to confiscate property and usually they take things from drug related homes . I disagree with this practice and recent court rulings seem to as well . For instance an inn owner found his inn target of this law due to high crime in the area. The judge said BS to the cops and prosecution because the man had nothing to do with illegal activity his inn was located in a bad part of town and he would call police to report crimes or suspicious activity.

        • The Ou7law

          Sorry if i struck a nerve i was mostly talking about the shady individuals

          • mo

            You didn’t seem to say anything above about mostly the shady ones. Nice backpeddling though, but if that’s what you meant the first time, you would have said it. Or maybe your grasp of the language needs help.

          • The Ou7law

            Lol thanks mo

          • Adam Smith

            You are so impressive. Great job jumping in and attacking someone who was obviously talking off the top of their head (he even apologized). What is even more impressive is how you played the english language/grammar card when no one even commited an obvious grammar error. Liz already replied and set the guy straight, yet you felt the need to further your ego by posting something that makes it seem like you are a pretentious douche.

          • Kevin Johnston

            mo is a little goofy ass bitch, that’s all he ever does it’s pathetic.

          • Dave Gibson

            “Mostly” talking about the bad examples? Mostly means that you were also talking about the good police officers, just not as much. Thus, your reply and explanation to your original statement shows that it was intended to be all inclusive.

            I am personally not a fan of most law enforcement personnel, but I completely understand why they behave they way the do and I cut them slack because of it. They are faced everyday with people lying to their face, calling them names, intentionally causing problems just so they can yell “Police brutality!” and get 15 minutes of fame and a large check.

            It’s a difficult, thankless, and ill-paid job. Because of these factors, the job only attracts a very select few. Unfortunately, these few also include those who have bully complexes and violent tendencies.

            I think that a huge percentage of problems with police/citizen relationships could be solved by always-recording helmet cams worn by police while on duty. Something like Google Glass or those cameras the military is starting to use.

      • Kevin Johnston

        Canadian cops are too brotha, so many times I’ve been detained with no lawful reason, get this….I was given a criminal record for uttering threats in 2005. I am not eligible to be pardoned (due to government error) until October 2018. 13 years for a Summary (misdemeanor) conviction for sending a stupid message on facebook. The law is ass backwards

        • Xtopher Quietmind

          Ummmm… in many cases, “uttering threats” constitutes the “assault” portion of “assault and battery.” That would be the lawful reason you are being detained.

          • Kevin Johnston

            Sorry maybe I spoke wrong. I was lawfully detained that time but many times I have been walking in my neighborhood which is pretty damn safe and cops will pull me over and question me whatever, there have been other times when it’s not lawful lol but you’re definitely right

      • Xtopher Quietmind

        You get arrested a lot, don’t you?

        • The Ou7law

          Lol no i have only been arrested once

          • Kevin Johnston

            Damn i used to get arrested every weekend lol I wasn’t even into doing bad things just partied a lot and wound up in the drunk tank. Had to give up the liquor though, it was a real shit show

      • Joseph Wilson

        I’m a retired MP. (Big difference, I know.) A lot of us are by the book, legitimately wanting to do the right thing. It’s a tiny minority that are corrupt. It also doesn’t help that the good ones have their hands tied by bureaucracy and higher ups that are apathetical and burned out, at best. I have friends and family who were civilian police, and it’s much the same: people trying to feed their families and help their communities.

  • Andy West

    The woman in the photo had hidden their donuts.

  • Nathaniel A.

    Basically as long as you don’t looked stoned or suspicious you will be fine.

    • Jack Shen

      Looking “stoned or suspicious” is a very subjective thing. Wearing a lot of black clothes could make you look suspicious. Staying up all night studying for finals may make you look and act stoned, because of exhaustion.

      • Nathaniel A.

        Then prepare for lawful search and seizure pal.

        • Jack Shen

          been there, had that happen already

          • Dave Gibson

            Your statement that a detective was demoted to “meter maid” places your entire statement in doubt. Law enforcement, either local, state, or federal, do not do this. Reduction in rank, yes. Termination, yes. Transfer from one department to another, yes, but not to parking enforcement because it is rarely directly overseen by the police/sheriff department.

            Show proof.

            (By the way, going to SHOT show or a shooting expo does not qualify as “trained with a lot of swat, FBI and DEA.”)

          • Jack Shen

            I didn’t go shot expo, I was actually taking the classes offered by people like Craig Douglas, I believe it was called AMISS at the time (Armed movement in Structure and ..something can’t remember rest), a lot of them were associated with Suarez International. Larry Linderman was another I trained with. Tom Sotis’s course’s also. The ones I completed with Tom, were “kill zone”, “4 themes concept and empty hand tactics” , “reverse edge concepts”. Any proof I show other than meeting in person and working out together, which if you are in Richmond VA, I’m always down to practice more, could be faked, ya know? And the meter maid comment. I don’t know that he actually got busted down to meter maid, but I do know he caught a lot of slack from my case, and was not a detective for a spell…..judge wasn’t happy about his time getting wasted. Honestly the combatives stuff I did, how can I show proof online in a comment section?

            You’re right lot’s o people BS, especially about martial based skills and such. I’ll tell ya in the AMISS class, if that was real life, I’d be all shot up and dead. The DEA guy in our classes, all I know of him was he went by “Phil” which I’m not sure if it was his real name or not.

            But yeah. other than meeting in person and practicing together, how could I prove it?

            BTW, I’m dying to go to a SHOT expo, never been. I’d be broke 100 times over by the time I left

          • Jack Shen

            ah…sorry guys I double posted, deleted the dupe, response below

      • The Deuce

        Or wearing a hoodie, walking down the street.

    • 1DireWolf

      “I suspect that the suspect was suspiciously black.”

  • dfizzo

    Actually the reason you aren’t entitled to an attorney isn’t because your possession isn’t a person, it’s because the case is CIVIL and not criminal in nature. There is no Constitutional right to representation in Civil cases. The police aren’t suing you’re stuff. They are, as accurately described, effectively suing YOU for your stuff. Note that the burden does TECHNICALLY rest with the police to prove probable cause but that’s a relatively low threshold.
    By the way, could we get some citations for the data you present. I have no doubt that abuses occur (heck I’ve helped fight some of these seizures, it IS a pain in the ass) but you’ve made a lot of charges and accusations that are very sweeping in nature while presenting little to no evidence to support them.

  • Thebearest

    Surely in the land of the free and home of the brave there would of been a few brave people stand up to this??

    • Xtopher Quietmind

      Stand up to… the law and order that protects them?

    • OC

      With the domestic military infrastructure that the globalists have forced us to finance these past few decades — and using these cowards (they’re just the hired help), giving them immunity for every atrocity, that is EXACTLY what they are waiting for – that one spectacular event that will ensure their total control. Weed out the uncooperative. The Oligarchs, and the officials they control, will be out of the country, sitting back and watching the carnage. Meanwhile, since they have little else to do besides count their money, they find it entertaining to take on the rebellious one-by-one. That’s the way I see it. Because the Plutocrats have done this hundreds of times. Think of having an Afghan or Chilean or Nigerian military base here in the US. And every time you DARE to protest against Shell or BP or even Walmart or McDonald’s you WILL be killed.

  • Chester

    And people wonder why Americans have alot of guns…

  • The Ou7law

    Land of the free my ass, maybe at sometime it use to be but those days are long gone

  • Ray

    The retard that wrote this must not be from the US otherwise they’d know you can’t “sue” property. So much for knowledge.

    • Jimmy

      They didn’t say that. They said they sue you for your property.

      • Ray

        Cases like “The United States vs. One Pearl Necklace” are common. And since your possession is not a person, it has no constitutional rights and thus has no legal right to an attorney. Is one pearl necklace a name? In any event, this biased article makes it sound like the cops just steal everyone’s property (they don’t).

        • Jimmy

          Yeah, I see what you mean. Even though it doesn’t say it directly, it is fairly strongly implied so I take back what I said. Not being from the US myself, the only info I have comes from this article which, like you said, is probably biased like most of the stuff on this site and listverse.

  • Scott

    Ya, it’s some bullshit. At least they still aren’t allowed to just randomly stop and search you, like they can in Britain. But still, it’s ridiculous. Our country is quickly becoming the very thing we supposedly fear the most, and yet so many of my countrymen are too fucking stupid to realize it.

    • Joseph

      They can randomly stop and search you in New York. As far as I’m aware that’s the only state that does it so far though. I think it’s called stop and frisk or something.

  • Enumscratch

    Please cite actual cases instead of non-objective articles. Most of the Forbes article (the only real reputable source) links these civil forfeitures to the real suspicion of a crime. Here is the actual statute for Civil Forfeiture as described in 18 U.S.C. 981: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/981. Funny how this little tidbit was left out of the sources. It explains that warrants must be obtained, and all manner of rules must be followed. This article is incredibly reckless and its only purpose is to further animosity between citizens and the government (which, if for actually valid reasons, is completely fine). By posting this ‘knowledge nut’ you are in essence practicing law without a license, as there is legal advice in this article. If anyone is seriously worried about civil forfeiture, I suggest you speak with an attorney in your own state, as state statutes always differ. This article, however, is garbage.

    • Ray

      The purpose of the article was probably just to be anti-american since other countries also have the practice.

  • Rajimus123

    Civil forfeiture or Asset forfeiture is actually a commonly accepted practice among law enforement in most countries where British law has had an effect on the legal system. The extent of its power is mainly just what’s regulated through the various levels. Still such a shady way for the cops to make money.

  • jihadbob

    Coming from somebody who has acutely been to prison had my door kicked in house raided warrants etc, they found 4lbs of bud ( not much in texas) took me and my family off to jail and left door unlocked didn’t sieze anything even though most was hot/Bought with illegal $. This is strange because i have seen property seized for minor Possession… Its hit and miss is what im getting at.

    • mo

      So you are a thief. How proud you should be.

      • Alun Daniel

        No, he’s a drug dealer.

  • TiredOfThisShit

    You left your tinfoil hat next to your alien rectal probe.

  • 1DireWolf

    And people wonder why some police get shot.

    • Xtopher Quietmind

      A true product of the public school system, you are.

      • 1DireWolf

        and what school system did you go to? Some religious one?

        • Xtopher Quietmind

          No, sorry, my academic focus was Criminal Justice and Constitutional Law.

  • Xtopher Quietmind

    Allow me to be the first to inform the readers (and especially the writer) of this article, that literally almost every single word of it is fabricated to the point of being genuinely laughable. This is a fantastic instance of someone attempting to justify their criminality by wantonly propagating another “police are bad” conspiracy theory. Absolutely pathetic.

    • 1DireWolf

      .

      • Xtopher Quietmind

        No, actually, my academic studies were spent on Criminal Justice and Constitutional Law.

  • Enzo

    Pigs… Die slow

  • Errkism

    There is a huge difference between a cop and a police officer. A cop is the guy who pulls you over for a speeding ticket or a missed turn signal and wastes everyone’s time and money. A police officer is someone who actually does his job and deals with things more important than a traffic ticket.

  • OC

    This is what happened while ‘they’ distracted you with a propanga blitz and killing sprees in foreign lands. Steal your land, your resources, your freedom, your country and your life.

  • OC

    I saw this happening rather recently. One man in Malibu had his gigantic spread taken or threatened, when the cops, encouraged by the little group that wanted his LAND, said he had a coupla marijuana plants on the spread.
    And the cops took that 20K in cash (they said it was 20k) from a Black lawyer or whatever, without any due process or accusations whatsoever. Just made up the law out of thin air. The guy got shot in the head because the money wasn’t his.
    So increasingly, if a cop of a certain ethnicity does it, then it’s not illegal.

  • MardellMccomb

    Its totally Human right violation by the United state Police.
    http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/Ar3vxB/cleanseplussingapore.com/

  • OC

    It is just me? They NEVER , and I do mean EVER abuse the serious, organized criminals, serious inner city gang members. ESPECIALLY the ones from Ukraine, Romania, Israel, Italy. The Mexican Mafia. The most cowardly ones will shoot a protester or veteran 20 times in the back — or place their boot inside the mouth of a 65 year old woman to control her, rupture the testicles of a 16 year old, bang the head of a teenaged “suspected jaywalker”, but the ACTUAL SERIOUS criminals? They will not touch. And again, we have a very weak executive branch despite all that murdering of unarmed civilians in the oil and mineral-rich regions.

  • OC

    This is an article at Reason.com. “Coked-up Cops”
    Asset forfeiture run wild.
    Asset forfeiture laws give police officers an incentive to bust people with property to seize. But few have taken this practice as far as the police of Sunrise, Florida, who posed as cocaine suppliers to lure targets into town.

  • OC

    Notice that as atrocities mount, not just their usual Black victims either — the boy who’s testicles were ruptured during a pat down – the kid just going to school- you don’t hear the Pimps in Congress calling for a Hearing, you won’t hear from the NAACP, much less that ACLU, until AFTER cameras are present, nor will you hear from the SPLC, although these are often targeted lynchings, and the DOJ has been a cruel joke since the first German US president.

    • teasuckss

      fuck you.