Louisiana’s Love Affair with Legal Plunder
The law should be a tool to protect people and their property from arbitrary and detrimental acts against them. When working correctly, the law should ensure all Louisianans feel safe and secure in their person and property. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. Sometimes the government erodes the rule of law to exploit its citizens. Louisiana’s system of civil asset forfeiture is a prime example of a gross abuse of the law and an affront to our constitutional right to due process.
Civil asset forfeiture allows prosecutors to take people’s private property without first convicting the accused of a crime. Even if a person is acquitted or found innocent there is no guarantee that they will ever see their stuff again. Although the federal government and most states have laws that allow the state to take private property regardless of a conviction, Louisiana has consistently ranked among the worst violators of individual liberty.
Furthermore, without safeguards to limit overreach, innocent people find themselves burdened with the costly legal fees associated with petitioning the courts to regain their property despite never being convicted. Due to this, the state often goes unchallenged in its application of civil asset forfeitures because the cost to mount a legal fight to get back your private property is often more than the value of the property the state has taken.
Pelican’s previous report on Louisiana’s civil asset forfeiture laws detailed some reforms that would curb the potential for governmental abuses by raising the standard of proof needed to take and keep property, improving transparency, making it easier for property owners to appeal to the courts, restricting when civil asset forfeiture can be used, and removing pressure incentives. Upcoming research from the Pelican Institute will advocate for a total transition away from the civil process of forfeiture in favor of a criminal process. In doing so, we will ensure that law enforcement can go after criminals while law abiding citizens are protected.
Protecting individual liberty against unjust government infringement is key to preserving the American experiment and future of Louisianans.