In the latest episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver offers a revealing and horrifying look at civil forfeitures, a process which allows state and federal government to seize individuals’ property without convicting them of a crime. “Public trust in the police is one of the most vital elements in a civilized society,” Oliver says. “But for many Americans, that trust has been undermined.”
Oliver references a September report from The Washington Post, which states that, since 9/11, police have seized $2.5 billion in 61,998 cash seizures from people “who were not charged with a crime.” “Under civil forfeiture laws, your property is guilty until you prove it innocent,” says Scott Bullock, senior attorney for Institute for Justice. And to illustrate the insanity of having a government square off against a piece of property, Oliver then cites genuine cases such as “United States of America vs. an Article. . . Consisting of 50,000 Cardboard Boxes More or Less, Each Containing One Pair of Clacker Balls. . . “
“How can that be possible?” Oliver asks. “At this point, I’m surprised objects don’t have their own civil rights leader – like Martin Scooter King or Harvey Carton of Milk.”
As usual, Oliver makes these hard truths easier to swallow by amplifying the absurdity. At the end of the clip, he takes this concept to a new level with the police procedural parody “Law & Order: Civil Asset Forfeiture Unit,” which features Jeff Goldblum as a hard-nosed interrogator. “What’s $2,500 in cash doing hangin’ out in somebody’s glovebox?” the actor says, grilling a pile of money. Elsewhere, police investigate scenes by drawing a chalk outline of an electric guitar and patting down a house.
Explore some Goldblum outtakes below.