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Note - Dollars for Collars: Civil Asset Forfeiture and the Breakdown of Constitutional Rights


Civil asset forfeiture is a tool used by local government and police officers to fight against crime and drug use by targeting the offenders’ economic incentives. Ironically though, this tool spawned new financial incentives for law enforcement. The current federal and local regulations, which implement the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act, take advantage of individuals by limiting their rights in proceedings and treating their property as guilty until proven innocent. Some families and individuals who fall victim to these forfeiture laws are losing their homes, money, and assets without ever being charged with a crime. This Note argues that these laws create an inherent conflict of interest, and thus inappropriately over-incentivize police officers and governments to profit from individuals because of the economic gain involved with seizing assets. Officers are more likely to pursue drug users but not dealers because police can confiscate the users’ petty cash to be used to subsidize police budgets and salaries; meanwhile, the dealer’s drugs have to be destroyed. “Policing for profit” puts vulnerable individuals at risk to be victimized by the system, as they are often unable to challenge or meet the procedural requirements of a forfeiture proceeding. Although civil asset forfeiture laws have been scrutinized and reformed at the federal level, this Note illustrates that further reform is necessary to align the practices with constitutional standards and ideals.