Eliminating the federal government’s greed for public defenders’ needs
The Bill of Rights guarantees the civil rights of the American people. It symbolizes individuals’ freedoms from higher institutions, particularly from the federal government.
Each amendment in the Bill of Rights speaks of its own freedoms. For example, the Fourth Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures. However, this amendment has been challenged through the process of civil forfeiture. This process allows law enforcement officials to seize assets from those suspected of being involved in illegal activity without charging them with wrongdoing. Law enforcement officials must prove that there is probable cause before they seize an individual's property. The concern with civil forfeiture is that state actors will take advantage of the public by seizing property for their monetary benefit. Instead of feeding the wallets of greedy law enforcement officials, the money can be used to create a more equitable legal system by funding the Public Defender's Office.
One of the most questionable aspects of civil forfeiture is that the federal government and most state governments require far less evidence than required to prove probable cause for search and seizures. In a case involving Bi-County Distributors, Inc., the federal government attempted to confiscate more than $446,000 from the company without a serious investigation. The federal government alleged that the owners violated federal banking laws by “structuring” their profit deposits to be less than $10,000. Because law enforcement is allowed to seize property without an investigation or substantial proof, the Bi-County Distributors' profits were seized without real cause. Over two and a half years, the government did not file a civil forfeiture action in court, but rather held the money and refused to return it. Civil forfeiture is not only unjust, it decreases the American entrepreneurial spirit. Why should Americans work hard if their success will not only be questioned, but stolen by the federal government? The detrimental consequence of civil forfeiture, aside from depriving people of their right to their property, is the creation of a paranoid America. When individuals have to work in fear of their earnings being confiscated, it perpetuates an unproductive working environment. First, individuals may not be completely focused on their work because they are preoccupied with fear of confiscation. Lack of focus decreases productivity, which ultimately hurts the entire company, especially if multiple workers have that fear. Second, individuals may care less about their occupation if they know that their property can be confiscated without cause or warning. The passionate and motivated American industrial spirit is being directly challenged by this unwarranted seizure of property.
Aside from civil forfeiture being a frivolous flex of power by law enforcement, it is also exploited for monetary benefits. This exploitation is known as equitable sharing, the process by which seized property is federally forfeited. This is when state and local agencies give their seized property to a federal agency, which can elect to “adopt” it for federal forfeiture if the “conduct giving rise to the seizure is in violation of federal law and where federal law provides for forfeiture.”
The problem is not merely the confiscation of property itself, rather how the taken property is then used by authorities. The Washington Post reported that “hundreds of state and local departments and drug task forces appear to rely on seized cash, despite a federal ban on [using] the money to pay salaries or otherwise support budgets. … 298 departments and 210 task forces have seized the equivalent of 20% or more of their annual budgets since 2008.” There is a clear incentive for law enforcement officials to seize property because that is how their careers are funded. This selfish motivation corrupts the civil forfeiture system.
If civil forfeiture cannot be terminated, it would be best for the confiscated funds to be given to the Public Defender's Office. Public defenders are known to be underfunded and overworked. If the office was better funded, it could help the budget disparity between the District and Public Attorney’s Office. With more money, the Public Defender's Office could hire more lawyers to equally spread the workload, incentivize public defenders to win cases with higher pay and purchase better resources to help conduct their services. In working to resolve this disparity, the individuals who are targeted by civil forfeiture can directly benefit from a better equipped public defender. In turn, law enforcement officials would be less likely to confiscate property because the proceeds would not fund them, rather they would fund a party that works against them.
Ultimately, civil forfeiture is a corrupt system that aims to maintain the riches of federal and state law enforcement by taking advantage of the American people. The public has been told to put their faith in the law enforcement system only to be stripped of their trust. Agencies such as the Public Defender’s Office who need better funds watch from the sidelines as well-funded law enforcement services deepen their pockets. Frankly, Uncle Sam would shake his head in shame seeing that law enforcement agencies, created to protect individuals are instead not only driven by greed, but also directly operating against the public good for their own monetary gain.