Civil forfeiture is often used to rob large amounts of cash, cars, and other valuable items from the public. It’s a nice racket because the victim has to prove that their assets weren’t tied to a drug crime and since proving a negative is very difficult civil forfeiture rakes in a ton of cash for the State. But what about poorer people? Not everybody is cruising around with tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash or drives a nice car. Fortunately, for the State, civil forfeiture is a versatile theft mechanism and can be adapted to meet the needs of the thief:
After the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office sued New Jersey resident Jermaine Mitchell to keep $171 dollars seized from him during a drug arrest earlier this year, it sent him a notice in jail of his right to challenge the seizure. The catch? It would cost him $175 just to file the challenge.
Mitchell’s is one of 21 civil asset forfeiture cases that the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office combined together in a what the ACLU of New Jersey said in a court filing last week is an unlawful scheme that deprived Mitchell and the other defendants of their due process rights under the Constitution.
I know how Mitchell feels. I received a parking ticket in St. Paul a few years ago. Normally I’d be all gung ho about fighting such a ticket but the cost of fighting it was higher than the ticket itself. Had I fought the ticket I’d have actually lost money on the deal.
It must be nice to have a monopoly on the legal system. You can create the rules, set the fines, and set the amount it will cost the peasantry to get their day in court. If you just set the fines lower than the price of accessing the courts you can rake in a ton of cash without much worry of being challenged.