The DEA is granted a large degree of power in order to prosecute drug-related crimes. However, some critics question the amount of power that the federal agency is granted. Specifically, the DEA has the power to confiscate money or property even if they only have a suspicion that they're connected with drug trafficking.
In one recent story, a 22-year-old man was forced to give up his $16,000 life savings in what's called civil asset forfeiture. The young man was not found with any drugs, nor any other evidence that could connect him to the drug trade.
dea drugs arrest
Civil Forfeiture for Suspected Offenses
The young man, Joseph Rivers, was riding an Amtrak train from his hometown in Michigan to Los Angeles, CA. He had withdrawn his $16,000 life savings as cash into a bank envelope. He had withdrawn all his money to produce a music video in Los Angeles. He had saved up his money with the help of his family.
As he changed trains in Albuquerque, DEA agents boarded the train and questioned various passengers, including Rivers. He was the only passenger that was searched by the DEA agents, as well as the only black person in the train car, witnesses said. DEA officers confiscated the $16,000 in cash, on the suspicion that Rivers was involved in the drug trade.
Broad Legal Powers to Fight the Drug Trade
The DEA and other law enforcement agencies are allowed to seize money and property under what's called civil asset forfeiture laws. Even just based on suspicion, law enforcement officials can confiscate cars, boats, cash, personal effects, and more. For the people who have their assets confiscated, it's often impossible to get them back. In River's case, he's still not been charged with any crime nor detained in any way.
Law Enforcement and the Fight Against Addiction
No one denies that police and federal agencies like the DEA are well-intentioned in their fight against the drug trade. However, harsher penalties (including civil asset forfeiture) aren't going to be enough to solve America's drug crisis. Instead, what people need is greater access to drug treatment. Finding the right, reputable rehab center is vitally important in conquering addiction.