Is it Time to Revise Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws?
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by Causes | 6.8.18
- Last week, customs agents seized more than $58,000 in cash from a Cleveland man without charging him with a crime.
- This sort of thing happens regularly through a law enforcement technique called "civil asset forfeiture," which allows authorities to take cash and property from people without charging them with a crime.
- In 2017, federal authorities seized more than $2 billion in assets, equivalent to annual losses from residential burglaries in the United States.
Why it matters
- While civil asset forfeiture was originally conceived as a way for law enforcement to go after organized crime, it has ballooned into a revenue-generating practice that both the left and the right decry as abusive.
- According to the Heritage Foundation:
"There are many stories of innocent people having their property seized… You can be totally innocent and still be unable to stop the government from seizing your property… Being innocent does not mean that a state has to return your property. The Supreme Court of the United States has held that the 'innocent owner' defense is not constitutionally required."
- According to the American Civil Liberties Union:
"Police abuse of civil asset forfeiture laws has shaken our nation’s conscience… For people whose property has been seized through civil asset forfeiture, legally regaining such property is notoriously difficult and expensive, with costs sometimes exceeding the value of the property."
- Defenders of the practice, such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, say it’s a valuable tool for fighting drug cartels and other criminal enterprises in cases in which a criminal conviction is difficult to obtain.
- The Institute for Justice, a civil-liberties law firm working to overturn civil forfeiture, argues that because people wishing to challenge a civil forfeiture must essentially demonstrate their innocence in court, it guts the basic tenet that someone is innocent until proven guilty.
What do you think?
Should authorities be able to continue using civil asset forfeiture as it’s currently defined, or should the practice be revised? Hit Take Action, then share your thoughts below.
—Sara E. Murphy
(Photo Credit: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration)
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