A License to Steal: The Forfeiture of Property

A License to Steal: The Forfeiture of Property

A License to Steal: The Forfeiture of Property

A License to Steal: The Forfeiture of Property

Synopsis

The laws of forfeiture dictate that the government may confiscate property that has been associated with the commission of a crime. In the 1970's and 1980's, law enforcement agencies increasingly used this controversial tactic and, as a result, reaped tremendous financial profit. In A License to Steal, Leonard W. Levy traces the development and implementation of forfeiture and contends that it is a questionable practice that, because it is so often abused, serves only to undermine civil society.

Excerpt

On February 1 -- not April 1 -- of 1995, the Associated Press ran a little story about forfeiture datelined from Helper, Utah, a town of 2,100 people. The story began, "Police officers in Helper will personally get a cut of any cash or property they seize in drug cases." Speaking for the city council that had adopted this "forfeiture incentive resolution," the mayor asked, "Why not give our guys a reason to be more aggressive?" Officers involved in seizures of drug property will get from 10 to 25 percent of the proceeds. Helper, Utah, had simply personalized the already existing state and federal laws that permitted law enforcement agencies to profit from assets forfeited in drug cases.

Forfeiture refers to the government's uncompensated confiscation of property that is implicated in a crime. The property may be used to commit the crime, be its product, or be obtained with its fruits. For example, a home bought with money from illegal drugs or a robbery is subject to forfeiture. The government may proceed against the property in a civil suit by a procedure that is at war with the Constitution, or in a criminal suit that can damage third parties. This book examines both civil and criminal forfeiture. No other book does.

Forfeiture must be distinguished from the taking of private property for a public use by the power of eminent domain. In such a case, which requires just compensation, the property is unconnected with crime; in a forfeiture case, the . . .

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