The Justice Department-administered account into which federal forfeiture proceeds are deposited, brought in $4.5 billion.
Civil asset forfeiture is a growing problem throughout the nation, driven by a profit incentive that encourages property seizures by law enforcement authorities even under dubious circumstances.
That is the inescapable conclusion of the second iteration of Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture, the Institute for Justice’s comprehensive report on civil forfeiture. Despite several recent, high profile victories for forfeiture reformers in jurisdictions like New Mexico and Washington, D.C., in most states and at the federal level civil forfeiture remains as unchecked and abuse-prone as ever.
Expanding a Bad Policy
According to nearly every measure, forfeiture’s use – and the unaccountable millions in proceeds it generates – is expanding.
Civil asset forfeiture is the legal tool that allows law enforcement agencies at the federal, state, and local level to seize property believed to be involved in, or derived from, criminal activity. Civil forfeiture targets property, not people, so no criminal charges need be filed or any convictions won for property to be taken from its owner.
Rather, in 31 states and at the federal level, prosecutors need only prove by a preponderance of the evidence – that it is more likely than not – that the seized cash, car, or home is tied to crime in order to forfeit it.
Property owners, meanwhile, must prove their own innocence if they want to win it back. If they cannot, their property is forfeited to the government and the agency that seized it in the first place reaps the reward, literally.
According to the Institute for Justice, in all but seven states, law enforcement agencies are able to keep at least 45 percent of the proceeds of successful forfeitures to augment their budgets. In 25 states, they keep it all.
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