NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Civil Asset Forfeiture

October 20, 2015

Civil asset forfeiture is a legal proceeding against property in which that property is seized but no criminal charges are brought against the owner. The federal equitable sharing program allows local and state law enforcement agencies to keep a portion of the funds seized, generally 80 percent. The U.S. Department of Justice\'s asset forfeiture fund (AFF) keeps the rest.

The effect of different state policies on the level of asset forfeiture suggest that law enforcement agencies nearly completely eliminate the use of civil forfeiture as a law enforcement tool when they do not stand to benefit from the seizure activities.

  • Nearly 90 percent of civil forfeiture cases are not accompanied by a criminal prosecution.
  • In 2000, Utah voters approved an initiative reforming the state\'s civil forfeiture laws, eliminating the distribution of proceeds to law enforcement agencies.
  • Prior to the civil forfeiture reform, 20 percent of Utah agencies seized assets. After the reform was enacted, less than 5 percent of agencies partook in civil forfeiture.

In order to protect the property rights of citizens and safeguard them from the abuses of forfeiture laws, legislatures ought to follow New Mexico\'s forfeiture reform legislation (HB 560), which took effect in July. The statute removes incentive for law enforcement to violate property rights and due process. HB 560 ensures that only the property of those found guilty of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt will be subject to forfeit. Moreover, law enforcement agencies will no longer be allowed to keep any of the proceeds of forfeitures. The reforms put in place by New Mexico have realigned the incentives of civil forfeiture in a way to best protect the rights of citizens.

Source: Joshua Latshaw, "Civil Asset Forfeiture in the States," National Center for Policy Analysis, October, 2015.


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