Speed Reads

Cops and Robbers

The Daily Show explains a troubling type of legal 'highway robbery,' by cops

On Tuesday night's Daily Show, correspondent Jordan Klepper explored a legal concept called "civil forfeiture," with some assistance from a few apparent victims of this form of legal highway quasi-robbery, an ACLU critic of the practice, NYPD cop Roy Richter, and some well-timed Law & Order chimes.

Richter explained that in a civil forfeiture action, police can seize cash and other assets from drivers if they suspect those assets are proceeds of a crime. The people whose cash the cops seized can get their money back, but they have to go to court and prove it was wrongly seized first. "So property is guilty until proven innocent?" Klepper asks Richter, and the answer is yes, kind of.

Vanita Gupta of the ACLU explained that it's often cheaper for innocent drivers to let the cops keep the money than to hire a lawyer to prove their innocence — and that both local and federal law enforcement agencies are counting on this stream of sketchy revenue to fund their departments. For the alleged victims of forfeiture abuse that Klepper interviews, this all feels like highway robbery, except that the robbers are the cops. And that seems a pretty plausible interpretation. --Peter Weber