Why are innocent people still losing cash, cars, and even homes to police?

One reason is that federal, state and local authorities get to keep all or part of the forfeitures they take in. Since 2000, they’ve taken in nearly $69 billion, according to a report by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian legal group that has sued the government in forfeiture cases. That’s 69 billion reasons for cash-strapped agencies to grab money, whether or not it’s justified.

And it’s so easy.

Police need only to suspect your property is somehow involved in a crime. They don’t have to charge you, let alone convict you of anything. And once they seize something, it’s up to you to prove in a complex and expensive system that it is not derived from a crime. Basically, you’re guilty until proven innocent.

Like so much else in today’s criminal justice system, the brunt of forfeiture falls on those who can least afford to fight back. The majority of seizures are cash. Across 21 states with available data 2015-19, the average forfeiture was $1,276 – not exactly drug lord fortunes.