Civil Forfeiture: Standing Up To Government Theft

By John McClaughry

Damon Root, writing at Reason.com, reports that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has joined Justice Clarence Thomas’s war against civil forfeiture.

Earlier, Justice Thomas had penned a stinging dissent in the Supreme Court’s refusal to grant a hearing in a case where Texas police seized two hundred thousand dollars from Lisa Leonard but never charged her or anyone in her family with a crime.

Last week the D.C. Circuit signaled its agreement with Thomas in a decision in favor of an innocent couple fighting for the return of $17,900 in cash seized by the police, although no underlying criminal charges were ever filed. But when two women whose money it was requested its return, a federal district judge ruled that they lacked standing, thus ending their case and leaving the government in possession of their cash.

The D.C. Circuit reversed. Describing the legal process that led to this result as “onerous, unfair, and unrealistic,” it ruled that “The pair has a right to contest whether the money is subject to forfeiture. Despite the government’s best efforts, this will remain an adversary proceeding.” Now that their standing to bring suit has been recognized, the two robbery victims will continue their legal battle to get their money back.

Civil forfeiture abuse is one of government’s worst practices, and it needs to be decisively stopped. Here’s a gold star for Justice Thomas for his principled stand to stop it.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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