Just a week after Donald Trump threatened to ruin a Texas legislator’s political career over minor limits to asset forfeiture, Trump lap dog Chris Christie vetoed a New Jersey bill that would limit the practice. The bill had passed The Assembly and Senate unanimously, which is about as bi-partisan as you can get.
Asset forfeiture is the practice of police departments taking property — money, cars, boats, homes, whatever — as part of investigations into illegal activity. A part of the wonderfully unsuccessful War on Drugs, the practice claims to be about stopping drugs and terrorism but has become a means of funding local police departments. Essentially, if the cops think you are dealing drugs or a terrorist they can take your cash and home and car and (as noted above) whatever. No need for conviction, or even judicial review. They get to keep your stuff.
The dirty secret of asset forfeiture is that it’s not being used to take down the biggest and baddest criminals. It’s far more frequently used to nickle-and-dime average citizens, with a majority of an agency’s take being made up of seizures valued at well below $10,000. Vehicles are seized from grandmothers because their grandchildren drove drunk. Any cash on anyone who smells like marijuana to a police officer usually ends up being forfeited even if the person is free to go.
The legislation, S2267, would have simply forced prosecutors to report the alleged crime, the alleged perpetrator, the location of the seizure, whether what was seized was itself a crime,and what was seized to the state. That’s pretty much it. Not a real hard climb for the police, but most likely a process about as hard as buying a book on Amazon.
All 120 legislators in New Jersey supported the bill, and they sent it to the Governor for his signature. But … no sig. Just a big veto.
The next question is whether the GOP members of the Assembly and Senate who sponsored and/or voted for the bill will back an override vote. They’ve refused to support such overrides on bills they voted for in the past, so the hope is not great.