Article from For Liberty by Norm Leahy.

Several state legislatures have begun reforming civil asset forfeiture laws. The intent: end the abuses such laws create for cash-starved law enforcement agencies.

But reform often runs into a brick wall made up of prosecutors, police, and politicians who see asset forfeiture as a bottomless well of revenue. That case is rarely made publicly. Instead, warnings that any changes to asset forfeiture laws will lead to more and greater crime are the standard line of defense.

Sometimes, however, the truth comes out. As it did in Arizona, where an asset forfeiture reform bill failed thanks to Democrats worried about local budgets:

Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, said this is about more than prosecutors and police. Rodriguez, who is a criminal defense attorney, said that counties also fund public defenders through the cash they get. Removing the revenue stream, he said, leaves supervisors with the dilemma of whether they fund those services.

Farnsworth did not deny that limiting seizures is likely to affect county budgets. But he said that does not make it right, saying counties never should have been put in a position where their programs are financed through this method.

“The taking of property without a conviction on the criminal side is reprehensible to me,” Farnsworth said.

“It is contrary to everything we believe in this country,” he said. “It’s contrary to due process, it’s contrary to the concept of fairness.”

Funding services through property seizures – nevermind due process – has become standard operating procedure in too many locations throughout the country. 

As Reason Magazine’s Scott Shackford reported, such arguments fell on deaf in the Arizona House:

The forfeiture reform bill made it out committee earlier in the week, with a small number of Democrats voting no. But when the full House voted on Thursday afternoon, all 29 Democrats, plus 8 Republicans, voted against the legislation.

According to an Institute for Justice report:

Forfeiture has no meaningful effect on crime fighting, but forfeiture activity does increase when local economies suffer. These results add to a growing body of research suggesting police pursue forfeiture less to fight crime than to raise revenue. Given this evidence and serious civil liberties concerns raised by forfeiture, forfeiture proponents should bear the burden of proof when opposing reforms that would keep police focused on fighting crime, not raising revenue.

Image Credit: By Jamelle Bouie [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons