Among the worst violations of liberty and property brought about by the American police state is the insidious practice of civil asset forfeiture (CAF). Also known as policing for profit, CAF allows cops to seize cash, cars and other assets on the spot–with no evidence of a crime having been committed.

Police departments and other agencies keep these stolen assets, using them to buy equipment, pay salaries and for purposes simply marked as “other.” The innocent victims of this theft must pay expensive legal fees just for the chance to get their cash or assets back, with no guarantee it will work.

In the latest egregious example, the Arkansas Court of Appeals approved the theft of nearly $20,000 from Guillermo Espinoza during a traffic stop, even though he was never charged with a crime and prosecutors had attempted to dismiss the case. Espinoza even provided paychecks and tax filings to show that his cash was “lawful earnings,” but this did not satisfy corrupt Arkansas authorities.

The Institute for Justice (IJ) closely monitors this kind of abuse being carried out on citizens across the country. Federal, state and local authorities are all players in this racket that amounts to billions of dollars in cash and assets being seized.

IJ has put together a video called “Policing for Profit Visualized: How Big Is Civil Forfeiture?” which shows the massive scale of government theft carried out on the American citizenry.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Treasury Department have taken $29 billion in cash and assets since 2001, with the vast majority happening under civil forfeiture where no criminal conviction is needed. Only 13 percent of Justice Department forfeitures (out of $4.5 billion) were from criminal forfeiture.

The video also highlights a program called “Equitable Sharing,” where local cops seize assets and turn them over to federal authorities, who return up to 80 percent of the loot to local cops. This is done to bypass laws in the few states that have reigned in civil forfeiture. This nefarious operation has netted $4.7 billion for local cops since 2000.

Trying to get civil forfeiture data from each state proved to be an impossible task for IJ, since most states keep no records of the practice. In 2012 alone, 26 states and the District of Columbia took $254 million in cash and property. Texas and Arizona are the worst offenders.

With the data that can be acquired, we see that civil forfeiture revenue has doubled in 12 years. It’s like a drug, and law enforcement is the desperate addict.

IJ closes its revealing video by saying:

“Civil forfeiture is a big and growing problem. It threatens basic rights to property and due process. And without serious reform, it’s only going to keep growing.”

The good news is that a few states actually have undertaken reform, effectively abolishing civil forfeiture by requiring a criminal conviction to seize assets. New Mexico became the first state to take this courageous step in April of last year.


Justin Gardner is a peaceful free-thinker with a background in the biological sciences. He is interested in bringing rationality back into the national discourse, and independent journalism as a challenge to the status quo.