Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 27, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

"NO PERSON SHALL BE....DEPRIVED OF LIFE, LIBERTY, OR PROPERTY, WITHOUT DUE PROCESS OF LAW"....Nathan Newman reports today that the Justice Department has gotten permission to seize websites allegedly set up to sell illegal "drug paraphernalia." That is, they can seize them before a trial takes place. Barry Deutsch agrees with Nathan's outrage over this and adds his own catchy headline that we can all appreciate.

What makes this worse is that it's not really related to either the war on drugs or to John Ashcroft's unfortunate lack of appreciation for civil rights at least, not directly. Rather, it's simply another case of civil asset forfeiture, which allows police to confiscate the belongings of people who are merely accused of crimes. As this article tells you, even if you're found innocent, you frequently have to sue the government to get your property back.

Congress has "reformed" the civil asset forfeiture laws a couple of times in the past decade, but even a reformed version seems like such a prima facie violation of the Fifth Amendment that I have always been bewildered that the Supreme Court allows it to stand. What possible constitutional principle is there that allows the government to seize property merely on the suspicion of illegal activity?

Glenn, Eugene, Jeff, Dwight, Sam, or any of the other law bloggers out there: can you provide an explanation of this? What's the relevant case law and what's the theoretical justification?

Kevin Drum 3:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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