30 Years Ago, Maine Changed Its Law To Curb Forfeiture Abuse. Records Show Nothing Has Changed.

The thing about asset forfeiture is it’s stocked full of perverse incentives. With a minimum of civil paperwork, law enforcement agencies can directly benefit from the property they seize and all without the hassle of having to deal with the uncertainty of criminal proceedings. The property is seized and its former owners are free to go. Minimum expenditure, maximum profit, and it’s all totally legal.

The best way to reform civil asset forfeiture is to attack these incentives. Some states, like Maine, have done this by forcing law enforcement agencies to deposit forfeiture proceeds into the general fund. Highway robbery now enriches the entire state, which won’t be much comfort to victims of forfeiture programs. But there should be fewer victims of forfeiture now that the seizing agency doesn’t have a personal stake in the forfeiture.

Should be. The solution looks good on paper. The execution, however, leaves something to be desired.