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Civil Asset Forfeiture

THE ISSUE: Civil asset forfeiture is a legal mechanism used by law enforcement that allows them to seize property from individual citizens and businesses while meeting only a low burden of proof. The assets can then be forfeited and repurposed, often providing funding for the very law enforcement agency that seized it. While forfeiture began as a way to put criminal gains to a useful purpose, this government function has cast a very broad net, and now endangers individual rights and the integrity of law enforcement.

THE IMPACT: It is possible for anyone to be affected by civil asset forfeiture. In many states, there is no requirement for a criminal conviction before cash or property can be forfeited. Because civil asset forfeiture allows charges to be brought against property itself instead of an individual—which is a legal oddity—property can be taken from citizens with far fewer due process hurdles for governments to clear. For example, after a traffic stop, an officer who believed that more likely than not the vehicle driven was used for criminal activity could bring the vehicle up on charges. Meanwhile, the individual is required to prove the property’s “innocence” of any criminal involvement—a clear inversion of longstanding practice in the American criminal justice system, which presumes innocence until one is proven guilty.

This happens more often than many think. In 2007, state and local law enforcement indicated that they had seized over $800 million worth of assets. These seizures have increased dramatically over the years. Additionally, when legislation is passed to curb civil forfeiture, these agencies often engage in “equitable sharing” with federal law enforcement, bypassing most state-level protections. In 2012, almost half a billion dollars was paid to state and local law enforcement under the guise of equitable sharing.

law enforcement agencies have unconsciously allowed the use of this practice to grow until they are dependent on it for funding. As long ago as 2001, a survey of agencies had reported that 40 percent believed that funding from civil asset forfeiture was “necessary”. A 2008 NPR investigative report in Texas revealed that some Texas sheriffs’ departments “rely on forfeited money for up to one-third of their budgets.”

These massive numbers indicate more than loss of property or assets. It also indicates a decrease in protected constitutional rights. The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, as well as most state constitutions, protects property interests and due process. The practice of civil asset forfeiture weakens these protections.

Kansas Should Embrace Asset Forfeiture Reform

Currie Myers | February 13, 2019
In 2018, Kansas was able to take a first step toward having better controls over asset forfeiture by passing a law that mandates greater transparency over assets seized by…

Right on Crime Partners with the Pelican Institute to Offer Louisiana Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Solutions

Right on Crime | February 12, 2019
Solutions would build on successes of 2017 state reforms and offer insights into new policy needs Please click to view the issue solutions papers regarding mens rea and civil asset forfeiture from Right…

Innocent Mississippians shouldn’t have to worry about having their cash or property taken

Katie Greer | October 19, 2018
Mississippi has repeatedly made headlines for reining in civil asset forfeiture, a practice that allows government agencies to take cash or property from citizens under mere suspicion. Despite efforts…

Advocates Recognize Officials for Ending Administrative Forfeiture in Mississippi

Right on Crime | September 5, 2018
Governor Bryant, Lieutenant Governor Reeves, and Speaker Gunn, We would like to congratulate and recognize the state of Mississippi for being a leader in reforming civil asset forfeiture. We…

Too many American dreams are stolen by civil asset forfeiture

Katie Greer | July 3, 2018
(Photo by Institute for Justice) People come to the United States to build a better life. A large part of that is the opportunity to earn a living in…

Iowa Supreme Court rules in favor of property owner’s rights in major civil asset forfeiture case

Greg Glod | June 25, 2018
This blog by Greg Glod originally appeared at the Federalist Society June 23rd, 2018. On May 25, the Iowa Supreme Court issued an opinion in the case In the Matter…

Wisconsin enacts asset forfeiture reform

Thomas Lyons | April 30, 2018
Governor Walker signed into law a large overhaul of the state’s use of civil asset forfeiture.  The overall effect of Act 211 is a greater protection for individual property…

Civil Asset Forfeiture Compared to ‘Going Fishing’

Andrew Speno | January 12, 2018
“It’s really kind of like going fishing,” is how one Oklahoma District Attorney Council spokesman describes the civil asset forfeiture process. “There are times when you go fishing and…

The Case for Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

Currie Myers | November 30, 2017
“I pledge to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of the State and to enforce the laws of the State and the United…

Director of Right on Crime Discusses Civil Forfeiture, Madoff Scheme on Fox Business

Michael Haugen | November 10, 2017
Right on Crime’s Director Derek Cohen went on air with Fox Business last night in response to the DOJ’s announcement that it had used civil asset forfeiture to capture…

The Mischaracterization of Conservative Criminal Justice Reform

Randy Petersen | November 6, 2017
This article by Randy Petersen originally appeared in The Hill, November 3rd, 2017. The primary goal of conservative criminal justice reform is increased public safety with a secondary emphasis on…

Don’t Mess with Texas on Civil Asset Forfeiture

Katie Greer | November 3, 2017
If you haven’t heard the slogan, “Don’t mess with Texas,” you either live under a rock, or you’ve never met a Texan. While engaging in a conversation on civil…
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