Civil Asset Forfeiture: The Time for Reform is Now

The practice of civil asset forfeiture has been under enhanced scrutiny recently, as many instances of abuse within the system have come to the public’s attention. Civil Forfeiture has been used as a legal tool which allows law enforcement officials to seize property that they believe has been involved in criminal activity. Civil asset forfeiture is often used against those who have not even been charged with a crime. Victims of asset forfeiture have varied from hard working moms to charitable priests who have had their fundraising donations seized by law enforcement.

See Also: Life After Asset Forfeiture: One Innocent Family’s Struggle to Reclaim Their Lives and Their Property

Many states have reacted by successfully passing legislation, which has brought more transparency and limitations to the process on the state level, but there is still a long way to go.  Despite these local victories, the federal government announced earlier this year that it is reinstating the “Equitable Sharing Program,” which has been used to help local law enforcement circumvent state law when seizing property.

See Also: Nebraska Become Third State to Abolish Asset Forfeiture

With the reinstatement of the Equitable Sharing Program there is more need than ever to pass legislation which would limit the federal government’s ability to seize property from innocent Americans.

See Also: The Feds Can Once Again Take Your Stuff without Charging You with A Crime

The Deterring Undue Enforcement by Protecting Rights of Citizens from Excessive Searches and Seizures Act of 2016 (DUE PROCESS Act), “Provides much needed reforms to federal civil asset forfeiture programs, increases accountability and oversight of seizures and forfeiture, and strengthens protections for Americans whose property has been seized by law enforcement agencies,” the House Judiciary Committee said on its website.  

It has been 16 years since the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA) was signed into law by former President Bill Clinton. Despite its intent to reform civil forfeiture, when all was said and done, the program continued. To put it in perspective, in 1986, the Department of Justice (DOJ) added $93.7 million in revenue to its Assets Forfeiture Fund. By 2014, the annual deposits had increased by 4,467 percent, totaling $4.5 billion.

 

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Additionally, according to the Institute for Justice’s Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture, “The forfeiture funds of the DOJ and  Treasury Department together took in nearly $29 billion from 2001 to 2014, and combined annual revenue grew 1,000 percent over the period.”

CAFRA was meant to curb or limit civil asset forfeiture, but it fell short. With more and more cases of civilasset forfeiture drastically affecting the lives of its victims, now is the time for substantial reform.

Generation Opportunity Senior Policy Analyst Jordan Richardson issued the following statement:

“We applaud this bipartisan effort by the House Judiciary Committee to better protect Americans’ property rights.  ‘Innocent until proven guilty’ is not a loophole in the law, rather the very bedrock of the American justice system.  Unfortunately, property rights, due process, and presumed innocence are ignored in civil asset forfeiture proceedings.  Young Americans don’t support a corrupt system of policing for profit that allows law enforcement to seize private property without significant enough evidence to even charge someone with a crime.  The DUE PROCESS Act is a step in the right direction and we are hopeful that it makes its way to the House floor for a vote.”

 

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According to the House Judiciary Committee’s document, if passed, the DUE PROCESS Act will do the following:

Reforms federal civil asset forfeiture programs

  • Enhances procedural protections of forfeiture proceedings in both civil and administrative settings and prevents government overreach
  • Increases the government’s burden of proof in civil asset forfeiture cases to help protect innocent victims

Strengthens protections for claimants

  • Creates a right to counsel for Americans in all civil asset forfeiture proceedings
  • Provides that a claimant may recover attorney’s fees in victorious cases against a government forfeiture
  • Speeds up the process for the government to notify the property owner of a seizure
  • Expands protections to innocent owners by requiring the government to prove the connection between the property and the offense and that the property was used intentionally in order to seize it

Increases accountability and oversight of seizures and forfeitures

  • Requires the Inspector General to conduct a yearly audit on a representative sample of federal civil forfeitures to ensure they are being conducted within the letter and spirit of the law
  • Requires the creation of two federal databases on forfeitures in order to make information more readily available to the public, including a catalog of federal forfeitures to assist those whose property has been seized and to provide broad details on the types of forfeiture, agencies involved, and the conduct that lead to forfeited property”

Generation Opportunity is proud to support the DUE PROCESS Act of 2016. We are hopeful that this legislative effort will result in substantial civil asset forfeiture reform and restore the rights of the American people.

Author Brittany Hunter

Brittany Hunter is a Staff Contributor at Generation Opportunity.

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