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Civil Asset Forfeiture

Civil asset forfeiture, or civil judicial forfeiture, is a legal process law enforcement agencies use to take personal assets from individuals suspected of a crime or illegal activity.

The Issue

In many states, asset forfeiture does not require that criminal charges to be brought against those whose assets are held, and there are differing standards of proof from state to state.

Proponents of civil asset forfeiture say the property seized benefits the public, as it transforms property, illicitly gained by criminal activity, into assets that law enforcement can use in their efforts. Critics argue civil asset forfeiture gives police departments economic incentives to seize property, which could lead to corrupting police officers and penalizing innocent property owners.

Fundamentally, civil asset forfeiture ignores that owners of seized property should be considered innocent until proven guilty, a constitutional right. It is expensive for property owners to retrieve their seized property, and the burden of proof tends to fall upon the accused to prove the property was not used in a crime.

Further abuse of the civil asset forfeiture system occurs when local law enforcement agencies to circumvent state law by entering into “equitable sharing agreements” with federal authorities. Such agreements allow criminal activity to be classified as a federal crime, and seized assets are divided among the federal and local agencies.

Our Stance

Civil asset forfeiture reforms are needed to remove incentives for police to seize assets and a requirement should be set in place that provides clear evidence that a person has committed a crime before property is seized.