Civil Asset Forfeiture
Imagine a world in which you are driving home from work only to be stopped and robbed of your vehicle and all the valuables in your possession. Now imagine the person doing this isn’t a criminal vagrant but an officer of the law. For most Louisianans, such a scenario sounds dystopian and unfathomable. Unfortunately, this isn’t a tall tale of urban legend or a twilight zone TV script. This is the very real upside down world of Louisiana’s civil asset forfeiture laws.
In a free society, the law should protect life, liberty, and property. When properly utilized, the law promotes social cohesion by deterring indiscriminate and detrimental acts against innocent citizens and their property. Louisianans, like all people, have the right to feel safe and secure in their persons and property. Unfortunately, Louisiana’s system of civil asset forfeiture runs contrary to the core values of free society by degrading the law itself into a blunt instrument of theft and citizen exploitation. A system that places the burden on innocent private citizens to petition the state for a return of their possessions is fundamentally unfair and antithetical to core ideas of Americanism.
Civil forfeiture laws allow the government to seize and take title to property that may be connected to criminal activity without charging or convicting the property owner of any crime. While criminal forfeiture occurs during a criminal proceeding against the suspect and requires a criminal conviction, civil forfeiture is an in rem proceeding against the property itself. It occurs in a civil court that operates separately from the criminal system. All told, civil forfeiture presents the government with fewer procedural hurdles and constitutional restraints than criminal forfeiture, and a much easier path to take ownership of everything from cash to cars to land at the expense of the property and due process rights of innocent owners.