NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Government Seizes Private Property under Forfeiture Laws

January 6, 2015

Civil forfeiture allows the government to take people's property, even if a person has not been charged with a crime. What does it take for law enforcement to take property? Nothing more than a "preponderance of evidence" that the property was connected with criminal activity. Jared Meyer of Economics21 explains: while most people think about forfeiture as taking the property of drug dealers or other criminals, the government has used civil forfeiture to take vast amounts of property from entirely innocent individuals.

The use of the civil forfeiture power has exploded in recent years:

  • In 2001, $407 million was seized under civil forfeiture laws; in 2012, a whopping $4.3 billion was seized.
  • From 2001 to 2012, law enforcement has taken $2.5 billion in cash from 62,000 Americans, all without warrants or indictments.

Meyer offers examples of forfeiture victims:

  • When Roderick Daniels was pulled over for going two miles over the speed limit in 2007, police seized $8,500 in cash that he was carrying. Daniels had planned to purchase a car with the money.
  • George Reby was pulled over in Tennessee for speeding and had $22,000 taken from him by a police officer. Again, Reby intended to purchase a car with the money.
  • When small business owner Carole Hinders made multiple cash deposits of less than $10,000 into her bank account, the government suspected money laundering and took $33,000 from her.

What happens to the seized property, be it cash, cars, jewelry or something else entirely? When the federal government does the seizing, Meyer writes that the funds go to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ has an Asset Forfeiture Fund, which then distributes the proceeds for various law enforcement needs.

Recently, lawmakers have made efforts to reform the civil forfeiture law. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kty.) has introduced the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act, which would raise the forfeiture standard for seizing property from a preponderance of the evidence to the more stringent "clear and convincing evidence" standard.

Source: Jared Meyer, "How to Restore 'Innocent Until Proven Guilty'," Townhall.com, December 19, 2014.                          

 

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