Chad Perrin: SOB

29 August 2007

why law enforcement steals, and how to fix it (sorta)

Filed under: Liberty — apotheon @ 01:46
Asked for his expert opinion of the practice, law professor Joseph Little of the University of Florida overcame a tragic handicap — decades of legal training — to offer a sensible assessment: “It sounds like robbery to me.”

That’s from The Highway to Serfdom, a bit of exposition over at Pro Libertate about the state of law enforcement in this nation as regards the practice of “asset forfeiture”. For those of you who have not had enough (formal or informal) legal training (or perhaps simply cynicism) drummed into you in this life to recognize what “asset forfeiture” means, its a euphemism for the practice of looting and pillaging by the police forces of your own communities and government.

The sort of “conflict of interest” (I put it in quotes because it’s only a conflict if the police actually intend to protect us from bad people — an increasingly debatable conclusion, these days) this represents is simply a grander version of probably the biggest problem I have with things like speeding tickets. The moment you monetize law enforcement procedures like this, you provide strong incentives for law enforcement and the courts to seek out ways to criminalize everyone’s behavior, to the extent possible. At the absolute most, it might be okay to allow seized assets to be used to defray the costs of the specific law enforcement operation that resulted in that seizure — but it certainly isn’t a good idea to ever allow the money gained from such a transaction to exceed the costs of the transaction itself.

Protections like that exist in our Constitution, but they’re subject to interpretation by the courts. As a result, those protections of our rights are simply not very damned strong, and are easily violated with impunity. Much of the Constitution is that way — the obvious intent is violated daily, with impunity, because of the manner in which the words used to express that intent is so well-suited to misinterpretation with the help of well-paid lawyers.

I’m depressed now.


  1. Another dimension in the trend to over-criminalize that I have observed: laws are made more stringent than they ought to be, so that their enforcement can be relaxed and still achieve the desired result. Instances include absurdly low speed limits with enforcement tolerance of 20 mph, events at which alcohol is not allowed but concealed containers are never checked (the idea being merely to prevent rowdiness), and IRS penalties that are settled for far less.

    The trouble is, it creates a notion that the government would be right to enforce stiffer restrictions, and that we are the beneficiaries of their mercy. When in fact they had no right to impose these restrictions without our aggregate consent.

    Comment by SterlingCamden — 4 September 2007 @ 12:36

  2. Too true, Sterling. I’m pretty sure something has been going on with gas prices for the last few years that’s similar to the way laws are made more strict than they should be. Notice how prices climb rapidly, hover, then drop significantly (but not all the way back down) so that everyone feels like gas prices are low, even though they’re still higher than they were at first. Wash, rinse, repeat.

    Comment by apotheon — 4 September 2007 @ 08:58

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All original content Copyright Chad Perrin: Distributed under the terms of the Open Works License