Civil Forfeiture Does Not Seem To Reduce Drug Use or Help Fight Crime

By Jacob Sullum, Reason

Civil asset forfeiture, which allows police to seize property they allege is connected to crime without arresting (let alone convicting) the owner, has provoked intense criticism in the United States, especially during the last decade. The critics argue that the practice demolishes due process and undermines property rights, giving cops a license to steal from innocent people who often lack the resources to resist.

In response, defenders of civil forfeiture argue that it deters and incapacitates drug traffickers by confiscating their profits, along with assets they use for production and distribution. The tactic’s supporters also say the revenue it yields helps fight drug trafficking and other kinds of crime because it supplements the budgets of law enforcement agencies.

In a new study published by the Institute for Justice, Seattle University economist Brian Kelly tests both of those claims and finds no evidence to support them. Kelly analyzed data from five states that use forfeiture extensively: Arizona, Hawaii, Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota. He reports no statistically significant relationship between increased forfeiture revenue and lower drug use rates or higher crime clearance rates.


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