Civil forfeiture lets the government confiscate property allegedly linked to crime without bringing charges against the owner. Since law enforcement agencies receive most or all of the proceeds from the forfeitures they initiate, they have a strong financial incentive to loot first and ask questions never. A new report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) highlights the potential for abuse.
Between fiscal years 2007 and 2016, the OIG found, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) took $4.2 billion in cash, more than 80 percent of it through administrative forfeitures, meaning there was no judicial oversight because the owners did not challenge the seizures in court. Although the DEA would argue that the lack of challenges proves the owners were guilty, that is not true, as Jacob Sullum explains. The process for recovering seized property is daunting, complicated, time-consuming, and expensive, often costing more than the property is worth.