Anybody who has watched at least one episode of Law & Order knows that in America, anyone accused of a crime is considered “innocent until proven guilty.” That’s the way it should be, at least. When a person is accused of a crime, the burden of proof belongs to the accuser.
But what most people don’t realize is that police routinely use a constitutionally dubious form of legal jiu-jitsu called “civil asset forfeiture” to flip this basic principle of fairness on its head. With civil asset forfeiture, police literally accuse your stuff of a crime, and you as the owner have to prove that your stuff is innocent.
Here’s an example: In 2010 Stephen Skinner and his son Jonathan, both African-American, were on a road trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, for a vacation when they were pulled over by New Mexico State Police for going 5 mph over the speed limit. The trooper searched their rental car and found several thousand dollars in cash and coins in their luggage that the two men had set aside for gaming at the casinos. The trooper called Skinner, then in his late 50s, “boy” and released him with a warning that “it’s not over.”
And sure enough, it wasn’t.