Civil forfeiture is the process where the government takes your property because they think it is part of a crime. As John Oliver points out civil forfeiture can be pretty satirical looking from the outside, however the results can be devastating to the people effected by it. And once the government takes your property through civil forfeiture it is your burden to go through the courts to try and get it back. Most people lack the legal knowledge to try and get their property back, through civil forfeiture, and if the government took a couple thousand dollars its generally not economical to hire a lawyer to get your property back. Even if someone does hire a lawyer their civil forfeiture case, often times there is not much the lawyer can do, because of the lack of rights people have in these types of cases. All the police have to do is convince the judge that it is more likely than not that the person whose property they took obtained it through some kind of criminal activity, even if the officer did not arrest the person.
As John Oliver points out police officers sometimes ask people if they have large amounts of money, and if you do the police take it through civil forfeiture, claiming its part of a drug scheme. One of my friends had a case where his client had about $4,000 organized by denomination. The officer seized the money through civil forfeiture saying they are familiar they believe that is how drug dealers organize they’re money in order to make change faster. Unfortunately for the client the lawyers fee for the civil forfeiture case was that he could keep everything he recovered.
Every time I see this happen I always wonder how people view broad power of the civil forfeiture laws?