Nov. 30-Just about everyone agrees that criminals should not be allowed to profit from their crimes.
That philosophy underlies a series of state and federal laws allowing "civil asset forfeiture," allowing police and prosecutors to seize material assets - cash, houses, boats, vehicles and more - tied to crime, most often drug trafficking.
Most often, police use the cash and convert other assets to cash, to help fund their own operations.
But the key word in civil asset forfeiture is "civil." Police may seize assets without anywhere the burden of proof that they need for probable cause to make an arrest, much less gain a conviction, under criminal law.
The result is that civil asset forfeiture is riddled with abuse, as documented in thousands of cases.
Most of the laws allow property seizures regardless of whether the relevant suspects are charged or convicted.
In states with more stringent civil rights protections, police often transfer the process to federal law enforcement authorities, who operate under a lenient federal statute.
Now the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute has published a former federal prosecutor's autobiography, "Why Cops Should Be Chasing the Bad Guys, Not the Big Bucks," under a pseudonym.
Beyond the civil rights issues inherent in property seizures without criminal due process, the author details how civil asset forfeiture skews police work itself.
The book describes incidents in which police conducting long-running drug investigations acted prematurely to seize large amounts of cash, for the sake of acquiring the funds, thus alerting innumerable suspects and forgoing arrests.
Pennsylvania, other states and Congress must rein in civil asset forfeiture to make it an aspect of criminal law, tying it to arrests and prosecutions and the due process to which all Americans are entitled.