John Oliver on Civil Forfeiture: “This is so much worse than we thought”

“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” aired a segment on civil forfeiture in October 2014 which discussed various ways in which law enforcement abused a procedure known as civil asset forfeiture. The segment, which was posted to Youtube, currently has over 7 million views and was embedded in articles on Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Slate, Vox and Mother Jones.

In an interview with New York Magazine’s Vulture, John Oliver discussed issues he covered that he found to be disheartening, and highlighted his civil forfeiture segment saying:

As you go deeper into stories, you follow the same emotional path of: Seems like there’s something wrong here, and then … this is so much worse than we thought. Something like the civil-forfeiture story — you go, “It seems a little weird that there are all these dash-cam videos of cops asking people, ‘Do you have any cash in the car?’ ” Then you go further into it and you realize they’re funding their departments by shaking people down. So the scale of it is bigger than you’d thought.

One of the more outrageous statements from the segment came from IJ’s now-President, Scott Bullock, “Under civil forfeiture laws your property is guilty until you prove it innocent.”

The second edition of Policing for Profit, which the Institute for Justice released in November 2015, documented the immense size and scope of civil forfeiture, and how the perverse profit incentive affects its usage state by state. The report showed that the use of civil forfeiture is on the rise, amounting to almost $4.5 billion for the Justice Department and Treasury Department’s combined net assets.

Since the segment aired, New Mexico, Montana, Maryland, Michigan and the District of Columbia have passed bills reforming civil asset forfeiture.

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