No Drugs, No Crime And Just Pennies For School — How Missouri Police Use Civil Asset Forfeiture

Many of the seizures occur along corridors that carry drugs east to big cities and cash back west. The Interstate-44 corridor through southern Missouri, Interstate 70 through St. Charles County and the network of interstates that connect in Illinois across from the Gateway Arch are prime locations for asset forfeiture and drug traffic.

Civil asset forfeiture is a controversial law-enforcement tactic that is based on a legal fiction dating back to the days of the pirates. The fiction is that property can be a “criminal.” Police can seize property they think is connected to a crime, even if they don’t charge the owner of the property with a crime — just as navies seized pirate ships in colonial days.

The practice skirts the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee that Americans are free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and it provides a potentially corrupting incentive for police to circumvent the law to fund their departments.

An unusual alliance of libertarians and liberals — from the ACLU to Cato and the Koch brothers — says civil asset forfeiture often amounts to highway robbery. The alliance is crusading for reform in court, Congress and the state legislatures.