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CATO against overly aggressive civil forfeiture

I wish I knew how to insert a file here, because the CATO Institute's amicus brief (joined by Goldwater Institute, Reason Foundation and Scharf-Norton Foundation for Constitutional Litigation) in the case of Alvarez v. Smith makes for quite interesting reading. It's a civil forfeiture case, and the amici argue that this is one case, like "many state forfeiture statutes, [that] provides powerful, dangerous, and unconstitutional financial incentives for law enforcement agencies and prosecutors offices to overreach. When the police department and the district attorney's office derive a significant part of their funds from forfeitures, the invitation to overreach is overwhelming. Marshall v. Jerrico, Inc., 446 U.S. 238, 250 (1980) (unconstitutional prosecutorial bias exists if there is "a realistic possibility that the [prosecutor's] judgment will be distorted by the prospect of institutional gain as a result of zealous enforcement efforts."). Where law enforcement agencies have such a direct and powerful pecuniary incentive to seize more than the law permits, it makes sense to impose more procedural safeguards to prevent abuse and protect private property rights."

Even if one is "tough on crime," that stance doesn't justify abuses of property rights. At first glance, based just on this brief, this is a case well worth watching -- and (again, reserving the right to revisit this original judgment pending deeper review) apparently worth rooting for the respondents, Chermane Smith, et al.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.