In 2019, law enforcement seized over $12 million in cash or private property from property owners in the state of Louisiana through a practice called civil asset forfeiture. Upon a showing that the property may have been implicated in a crime in civil court, the seizing agency can then take possession of the proceeds from the seizure. Without so much as a criminal charge filed, the seizing agency may deposit the proceeds in its own revenue account with little accountability concerning the culpability of the property owner, or how the proceeds are spent.
Transparency and accountability are fundamental tenets of conservativism aimed at ensuring government functions as good stewards of the rights and resources of its citizens.
A lack of transparency amounts to a lack of accountability, which can ultimately lead to a failure of government integrity and the people suffer as a result. Given the hallowedness of Americans’ right to their own property, and in order to guard against any challenge to the sanctity of this right, Louisiana must apply the utmost due diligence where the civil asset forfeiture practice is concerned. This practice circumvents the Legislature’s budgeting authority, with little oversight over how the funds are being spent or managed, not to mention its overall effectiveness in curbing criminal enterprise.
Budgets for law enforcement agencies are submitted and overseen by either a city council, parish government, or the Legislature. Because the proceeds from civil asset forfeitures are not a part of the budget, the agency has total discretion in how these funds are used. As in any criminal proceeding, chain of custody is important, and government’s power to seize and ultimately forfeit someone’s assets should require a greater deal of transparency and accountability. Law enforcement functions as the protector of citizen’s unalienable rights, which is an awesome responsibility.
Louisianans have a right to know the nature of the proceeds (personal property, cash, etc.), whether the proceeds were associated with a criminal charge and/or conviction, the value of the proceeds, and how the proceeds were spent. However, the current reporting requirements outlined in Louisiana’s civil asset forfeiture laws leave Louisianans in the dark where this important information is concerned. This shortcoming must be remedied with an elevated scrutiny, if Louisianans’ property rights are to be afforded the full measure of respect under the law our freedoms demand.
Make no mistake, it is critical that our state’s law enforcement agencies receive the funding necessary to maintain the rule of law. It is the function of the Legislature and local city/parish councils to ensure law enforcement receives the necessary funding. It must not be the responsibility of law enforcement agencies to fill their own coffers through a civil asset forfeiture practice accountable to no one.
Lawmakers must provide law enforcement with the resources necessary to ensure public safety. This task must be accomplished without comprising the integrity of an individual’s property rights. This balance ensures Louisiana remains a great place to operate a business and raise a family.
As a former member of law enforcement, I understand the demands on our law enforcement officers and the risks they face every day. Enhancing the reporting requirements for forfeitures ensures the proper checks and balances are in place and allows lawmakers to evaluate the effectiveness of civil asset forfeiture in fighting crime. Most importantly, making the civil asset forfeiture process more transparent and accountable to the people of Louisiana enhances the integrity of the Pelican State.