Document Type



65 University of Chicago Law Review 35


During the 25 years of its existence, the "War on Drugs" has transformed the criminal justice system, to the point where the imperatives of drug law enforcement now drive many of the broader legislative, law enforcement, and corrections policies in counterproductive ways. One significant impetus for this transformation has been the enactment of forfeiture laws which allow law enforcement agencies to keep the lion’s share of the drug-related assets they seize. This financial incentive has left many law enforcement agencies dependent on drug law enforcement to meet their budgetary requirements, at the expense of alternative goals such as the investigation and prosecution of non-drug crimes, crime prevention strategies, and drug education and treatment. In this article we present a legal and empirical analysis of these laws and their consequences. The empirical data show that the corruption of law enforcement priorities and wholesale miscarriages of justice can be attributed to the operation of these incentives, and also help explain why the drug war continues with such heavy emphasis on law enforcement and incarceration. The legal analysis questions the constitutionality of the forfeiture funding scheme under the due process clause, the appropriations clause, and the separation of powers.

Date of Authorship for this Version

December 1998


forfeiture laws, forfeiture assets, Drug War, Drug Law enforcement, Due Process, Separation of Powers, Appropriations Clause