Let's be clear about what civil asset forfeiture is not:
- It's not confiscation of contraband or illegal goods
- It's not property that has been withheld as evidence during a criminal investigation.
- It's not a fine or restitution imposed on someone duly convicted of a crime
Civil asset forfeiture instead refers to legal property or cash owned by individuals not charged with any crime, which is nevertheless seized by law enforcement agents who merely suspect it was used in a crime.
- If tens of thousands of dollars in cash are found in a person's home, it is automatically suspected of having been used in drug dealing, because no "normal" person would have that much cash lying around. "Odd or eccentric people", who distrust banks and keep their savings at home, are at risk.
- If trace amounts of marijuana are found in a vehicle, the vehicle may be seized, even if the owner was unaware that any drugs were transported in the vehicle.
The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA), was intended to correct some of the worst abuses. (More information on the history of Civil Asset Forfeiture and CAFRA are found on our Background page.) But abuses and outrages continue . . .
Civil asset forfeiture can't be "fixed" because its very essence breeds conflict-of-interest.
Unfortunately, federal courts have used twisted logic to uphold civil asset forfeitures. They have contended that since the property itself is condemned, and not its owner, norms like "innocent until proven guilty" do not apply. But if the government can seize your life savings, or your house, or the car you need to get to work, the effective punishment is as bad or worse than the penalties imposed upon conviction of a crime – yet the owner of the seized property possesses no due process rights.
Because the courts will not act to end civil asset forfeitures, Congress must. Another "compromise" asset forfeiture bill will only lead to more abuses and outrages. Civil asset forfeiture must be abolished. Tell Congress to . . .
- Require full Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendment protection for all federal proceedings against owners of personal property. (See these Amendments on the Background page.)
- Permit seizures of criminal profits only upon criminal conviction of its owner.
- Permit seizures of legally-owned property only if its owner is convicted of a crime, to pay for fines, court costs, or restitution.
- Withhold federal funds to all state and local law enforcement agencies that engage in civil asset forfeiture.
- Enforce the 14th Amendment's requirement that "no person shall be deprived of ... property, without due process of law" by allowing victims of state and local seizures to contest forfeitures in federal court.
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