Policing and Prosecuting for Profit

In 2002, New Jersey’s Carol Thomas made headlines after her teenage son used her 1990 Ford Thunderbird to sell marijuana to an undercover police officer. He was arrested, pled guilty and faced his punishment. However, that did not end the case. The government also seized Thomas’ car, despite the fact that no drugs were found in the car, she was the sole owner, and she had no knowledge of her son’s use of the car to sell illegal drugs. The government’s action was pursuant to a legal doctrine—civil asset forfeiture—that allows police and prosecutors to seize and forfeit property without ever filing criminal charges against the property owner.

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