The latest New Yorker magazine includes an article on civil forfeiture. Back in 1995 I took a class at Harvard Law School called “Advanced Criminal Procedure.” An example civil forfeiture case that I can remember involved a man who drove his wife’s car to a shady part of town looking for a prostitute. The police didn’t have enough evidence for a successful criminal prosecution but they took the wife’s car via civil forfeiture, arguing that the car was involved in prostitution. The wife appealed, pointing out that she certainly did not authorize the use of her car for such a purpose, but lost. The appeals court ruled that the government had the right to take her car.
Now that adult children are moving in with parents in increasing numbers, the case of the elderly Philadelphia couple whose 31-year-old son made three $20 marijuana deals from the front porch should be cautionary. I would rate this as another argument in favor of renting rather than owning a home (see previous posting on the subject). An owned house is a irresistible target for a variety of predators, including the government (gradual via property tax) and the police (sudden via civil forfeiture). Insurance cannot protect against these kinds of risks.
If Mary and Leon Adams had purchased a basket of stocks in 1966 instead of the house they would be a lot better off today. A jealous neighbor cannot plant a marijuana seed in a Vanguard portfolio and then call 911. A wastrel child cannot deal drugs while standing on top of a record in a Fidelity Investments relational database management system.