• Bart J. Wilson
    Donald P. Kennedy Endowed Chair in Economics and Law at Chapman University’s Economic Science Institute
  • Michael Preciado
    Associate, Snell & Wilmer L.L.P

Bad Apples or Bad Laws?

Testing the Incentives of Civil Forfeiture

Critics of civil forfeiture have long argued that allowing law enforcement to take property and pocket the proceeds creates incentives to put profits ahead of justice. Chapman University economist Bart J. Wilson and co-author Michael Preciado designed a cutting-edge experiment to see whether the rules of civil forfeiture in fact change behavior, and if so, how.

The results suggest that forfeiture abuse isn’t the result of a few “bad apples,” but bad laws that encourage bad behavior—it’s not the players so much as the game.

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Civil forfeiture laws pose some of the greatest threats to property rights in the nation today, too often making it easy and lucrative for law enforcement to take and keep property—regardless of the owner’s guilt…