This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The legal euphemism is "civil forfeiture." A more accurate term would be legalized theft. Whatever it is called, it is yet another symptom of the madness that descends on otherwise honest and reasonable public officials when they are tainted by the War on Drugs.
It is the delusion that it is reasonable, constitutional, even rational, to take money or other property away from people who are supposedly suspected of a crime, even when no conviction is on record or no indictment has been brought.
Efforts by lawmakers and others in Utah to end, or at least sharply limit, the practice have been stymied. But the Legislature did order a study of the issue, which was released July 1 by state's Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.
The fact that the CCJJ report was released on the eve of the Independence Day weekend might have been in the hopes that nobody would be paying attention.
It clearly was ironic, as the government behavior it describes is just what led John Hancock described by Wikipedia as "an American merchant, smuggler, statesman, and prominent patriot" to write his name in such large letters at the bottom of the Declaration of Independence.
In 2000, state voters adopted an initiative that limited the scope of such actions, setting a higher standard of proof and requiring that money seized in such a process would not go back into the coffers of law enforcement a practice which can only encourage more seizures but instead be turned over to the state's chronically underfunded public schools.
The Legislature overrode the will of the people four years later, lowering the bar needed to seize property and putting the money back into law enforcement.
The CCJJ found that cases reported in 2015 brought some $1.9 million into a special state fund. The money is then doled out in grants, much of it to the same law enforcement agencies that swept it up in the first place.
More than 60 percent of cases started as a traffic stop with much smaller numbers having an arrest or even a search warrant involved and in all but 2.2 percent of the cases the money was linked to alleged drug offenses.
It is sad that otherwise honorable public officials defend the practice of keeping money found in a car, on the grounds that only drug dealers carry cash, and a system where those who lose money or property have to go through a legal process that costs more than they lost to win their money back.
But civil forfeiture along with the unfortunate trend to equip police in military gear to break down the doors of houses where drug dealers might be holed up is what happens when we try to solve a public health problem with law enforcement tactics.