Many people are startled when they learn how civil forfeiture laws work. Such laws permit police and prosecutors to seize property — cash, cars, boats, houses, land — from people who have not been convicted of a crime. In many jurisdictions the presumption of innocence is turned on its head. In order to regain their property, an innocent owner must file a claim against the government, and has no presumption of innocence. They must prove they are innocent, and must pay for their own attorney. All the while they are deprived of their own money or property. There is a growing awareness of how unfair and simply un-American these procedures are, which is why states like New Mexico, Montana, and Ohio have enacted reforms to require a conviction before any property can be seized.
There are two types of forfeiture: criminal and civil. Criminal forfeiture takes place after a person is convicted of a crime, where the government can then seize ill-gotten gains. Civil forfeiture laws however, are more controversial because they empower the police to seize property in situations where there has been no conviction, or even, in some cases, an arrest.
In addition to the due process problem, civil forfeiture laws commonly allow police departments to keep the property they seize rather than deposit it in the government’s general treasury. That gives police a financial incentive to engage in predatory behavior. There have been cases in which homes were seized after teenagers sold pot from their front porches — unbeknownst to the parents. Federal agents seized a family owned motel after some customers were caught with drugs in one of the rooms. Highway patrols seize cash from motorists on the hunch that it is drug money. Instead of devoting resources to enhance public safety, police may instead choose to pursue assets and profits.
For a more in depth understanding of how Asset Forfeiture operates, read Civil Asset Forfeiture: Explained by Waseem Salahi, Jessica Brand, and Callie Heller of InJustice Today.
For more information on asset forfeiture, and to see the grade your state's asset forfeiture laws received, check out "Policing for Profit" from the Institute for Justice.
Via The Daily Signal - Op-ed by Pat Nolan and David Safavian on Civil Asset Forfeiture and the Risk of Property Rights Violations.
Via RealClear Policy - Congressman Doug Collins (R-GA) - "Civil Asset Forfeiture Harms Innocent Americans"
At CPAC 2017, Stephen Mills, Apache, Oklahoma Chief of Police took the stage to discuss his experiences with Civil Asset Forfeiture, both as a law enforcement agent and as a private citizen: