WATCH: John Oliver Explains Why Cops Can Just Seize Your Property

Imagine driving along a state highway at night and hearing the whining of sirens on the road behind you. A cop pulls you over, questions you, asks if you have any cash in the car. If you happen to have some—because you’re moving, or buying a car on eBay, or repaying a debt—and the officer can find the thinnest pretense to believe your behavior is suspicious, he can confiscate your money without ever charging you for a crime.

Though it may seem hard to believe, this process, known as civil asset forfeiture, is widely practiced by local police departments, in part because departments are allowed to keep whatever property they seize. The craziest part is that it is the property that is on trial, not the person (leading to bizarre Supreme Court case names like United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins). Lst night, John Oliver took a hard look at how the practice is abused. He and his team dug up a wealth of insane examples, from a Worcester County department purchasing a Zamboni with their asset proceeds, to another department in Texas using the money to buy kegs of beer and margarita machines for their office party.

“They are literally using this money as their own slush fund!” Oliver crows. “It’s perfect!”

The segment also includes a “more realistic” interpretation of Law & Order (Civil Asset Forfeiture Unit), featuring law enforcement officials yelling at a house for resisting arrest and Jeff Goldblum interrogating a pile of cash. Check it out. 

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.