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.