Robert Frommer had a Wall Street Journal article centered on a case in which the FBI confiscated the life savings of his client as they raided a bank’s safe deposit box vault and snatched up the contents of deposit boxes rented by hundreds of customers, including his client’s. The FBI never charged his client with any wrong-doing, and in denying her request to get her stuff back, the FBI simply said “No,” with no explanation.
What drew my attention even more strongly, though, was Frommer’s penultimate sentence:
Courts must demand justice by preventing agencies from forfeiting property without informing owners of what they did wrong.
That’s not enough. Seizing and forfeiting are two different things. If existing statutes don’t permit courts to bar forfeiture altogether prior to actual conviction, than Congress must correct the statutes’ shortfall.
Further, rather than seizing property prior to conviction—the FBI and too many local police departments repeatedly show how difficult it is even to get back seized property—law enforcement agencies should be limited to getting courts to freeze property pending conviction, leaving the frozen property at least nominally, and formally, in the possession of the owner.