This summer The New Yorker published a sprawling investigation on how cities use the practice to bolster their cash-strapped coffers by seizing the assets of the poor, often on trumped up charges. The same is true in New York City, where the civil forfeiture process has long been used by the NYPD to seize money from those least likely to be able to get it back. "It's very difficult for the victims of civil forfeiture, most of whom are from a lower socio-economic class, to do anything in the court system, much less win a civil forfeiture case," said attorney David B. Smith, the nation's leading expert on forfeiture law. Any arrest in New York City can trigger a civil forfeiture case if money or property is found on or near a defendant, regardless of the reasons surrounding the arrest or its final disposition. In the past ten years, the NYPD has escalated the amount of civil forfeiture actions it pursues as public defense offices have been stretched thin by the huge amount of criminal cases across the city. "One of the main problems with civil forfeiture is that you're not assigned a lawyer, it being a civil and not a criminal case," Smith explains. "Most people can't afford lawyers, and that gives the government a tremendous advantage."
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