Editor’s Preface (Winter 2017)

Nathan Goetting


On April 11, 1993, inmates at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio, desperate and enraged by degrading conditions and the relentless petty indignities of prison life, rose up and seized control of the institution. Convicts from rival gangs crossed social, religious, and racial divides to unite in solidarity against their common antagonists. For ten days the tables were turned.

In “Let Lucasville Uprising Prisoners Tell Their Own Stories!” renowned social justice advocates Staughton and Alice Lynd recount the fury and ag­gression with which police and prosecutors punished the insurrectionists. They chronicle the brutal injustices and legal shenanigans that followed the revolt. For years afterward, the state severely constricted media access to the inmates to prevent their side of this life-or-death story from becoming known. There are lessons yet to be learned from Lucasville. A meaningful public account­ing, with an eye toward reform and respect for human rights, is long overdue. The Lynds argue that it should begin by listening, finally, to the prisoners who decided to fight back.

The Obama administration prosecuted government employees who leaked classified national security information under the Espionage Act more aggres­sively than any of its predecessors. Donald Trump’s contempt for the general concept of how a free press functions in a democratic society—calling ad­versarial media “fake news” and the “enemy of the people”1— has become a routine applause line during his stump speeches. His hostility for government employees who leak to journalists, in particular, seems to know no bounds. He has tweeted that they are “traitors and cowards, and we will find out who they are.”2 Referring specifically to those who divulge national security informa­tion, he has threatened that “[t]he spotlight has finally been put on the low-life leakers! They will be caught!”3 In “Freedom for the Whistleblowers: Why Prosecuting Whistleblowers Raises First Amendment Concerns,” Catherine Taylor explains that current law not only fails to adequately protect sources who share classified information on issues of vital public concern with journal­ists, it may even allow for the convictions of journalists themselves, the First Amendment notwithstanding. She argues that legislative action is needed to protect journalists and their sources. Given the current occupant of the White House’s past statements and unabashedly authoritarian tendencies, such leg­islation can’t be passed soon enough.

Civil asset forfeiture is the great money racket of our contemporary criminal justice system. The process often involves law enforcement agencies seizing property as contraband from criminal suspects who have yet to be convicted or even formally charged and converting that property to cash to replenish their own budgets. In many overpoliced and impoverished communities where anti-law enforcement sentiment is already high, this results in a circular problem of spurring aggressive policing that expropriates from the poor to finance future cycles of even more intense police aggression, poverty, and resentment.

Civil asset forfeiture mocks the Constitution’s due process clauses, which require a presumption of innocence in criminal cases. It allows the government to target the property of criminal suspects as illegal contraband in civil actions where the rights of the accused are dramatically reduced and the government’s evidentiary burden is much lower. In many cases, the government can suc­cessfully confiscate the property of individuals it cannot prove guilty of any crime. Even more perversely, the dispossessed often have to prove themselves innocent before they can reclaim what has been taken.

Civil asset forfeiture is a timeworn practice long favored by the government as a way of punishing suspected wrongdoers it finds too difficult to punish criminally. But it’s never been used with the ubiquity and intensity we’re seeing now. The War on Drugs, ramped up in the 1980s and revitalized by the current U.S. attorney general,4 has made confiscation without conviction common police practice.

In “Civil Asset Forfeiture: Lining Pockets and Ruining Lives,” David O’Connell explores the history, constitutionality, and everyday impact of this uniquely menacing and overused police practice. He also provides practical suggestions for reform that courts and legislatures can adopt to curb its harm­ful effects.


  1. David Jackson, Trump Again Calls Media ‘Enemy of the People’, Wash. Post (Feb. 24, 2017, 10:54 AM), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/02/24/donald-trump-cpac-media-enemy-of-the-people/98347970/.
  2. Jordan Fabian, Trump Blasts White House Leakers As ‘Traitors,’ The Hill (May 14, 2018, 4:57 PM), http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/387642-trump-blasts-white-house-leakers-as-traitors.
  3. Jonathan Weisman, Trump Denounces ‘Low-Life Leakers,’ Pledging to Hunt Them Down, N.Y. Times (Feb. 16, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/16/us/politics/trump-russia-leaks-twitter.html.
  4. Lois Beckett, How Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump Have Restarted the War on Drugs, Guardian(Aug. 21, 2017), https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/21/donald-trump-jeff-sessions-war-on-drugs.