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.