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Prosecutors Should Not Play Legislator

On October 11, 2011, in states, by John Payne

At every level of government in America, the power of the purse is given to the polity’s legislative body, whether that’s Congress, a state assembly, or a group of county commissioners. However, asset forfeiture funds allow prosecutors to partially usurp that role–a role they are not elected to perform. The latest example of this phenomenon comes from Kleberg County, Texas:

The Kleberg County District Attorney’s Office donated $50,000 from assets seized in criminal cases to help offset county budget cuts.

District Attorney John Hubert warned the office won’t always have the money to spare because asset forfeiture isn’t a steady source of income. Still, four-fifths of the office’s operational budget is funded with seized assets, he said in a news release.

It’s disturbing enough that the Kleberg County DA’s office is almost entirely self-financed by asset forfeiture, but forcing the county to come to the DA begging for money is just absurd. If the county must rely on the prosecuting attorney’s largess to make ends meet, it gives him undue influence over legislation. The county commissioners will be more reluctant to pass any ordinance the prosecutor opposes or reject any he supports out of fear that the next time the county needs to tap into his forfeiture fund, he will refuse. Prosecutors are elected to enforce legislation, not create it, and allowing the two roles to mix together eliminates one of the checks on government power that have kept Americans relatively free for hundreds of years.

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