“Civil asset forfeiture is a due process violation, and it always has been,” Rep. Justin Amash, L-Mich., said Thursday. “Its history is riddled with injustices not because it’s a valid practice that gets misused, but because its central premise—denying people their procedural rights—is inherently flawed.”
Civil asset forfeiture is a controversial practice that allows law enforcement to seize a person’s property based on the suspicion that it was used in a crime, even if the property owner has not been formally charged.
Amash’s bill, the Civil Asset Forfeiture Elimination Act, seeks to completely eliminate civil asset forfeiture nationwide. “No person shall be required, under the laws of the United States, to forfeit to the United States any property, real or personal, pursuant to a civil forfeiture proceeding, including a nonjudicial civil forfeiture proceeding,” the bill reads.
Cases of civil asset forfeiture involving innocent property owners are quite common. In one incident from May 2020, an Arizona man had his 2000 Jeep Wrangler seized after his girlfriend allegedly used the vehicle to sell $25 worth of marijuana to an undercover cop. Even though the charges were ultimately dropped, the Jeep was still held as a party to the alleged offense, and its owner was forced to pay to get it back.
In another case from September 2020, a Florida couple sued the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) after agents purportedly seized more than $43,000 in cash at the airport without charging them. The couple tried to explain that the money was from a recent private sale of a vehicle, but the DEA agents decided to seize the cash because they suspected—without evidence—it was for a drug transaction.
A report from the Institute of Justice released this month estimates that $68.8 billion has been seized from Americans using asset forfeiture since 2000. Many people never get their property back, even if they were acquitted or were never even indicted. Since hiring an attorney to contest forfeiture can be expensive, owners of confiscated property only sought its return in 22 percent of cases.
Civil asset forfeiture is currently legal in 47 states. Three states have made the practice illegal, and 11 states have made amendments to require a criminal conviction before law enforcement can seize a person’s property. Amash wants to make the practice illegal nationwide. “By ending it, my bill helps fulfill Congress’s obligation to stop rights violations at both the state and federal level, and it ends a practice that contributes to the frayed relationship between law enforcement and the public,” he said Thursday.
Until meaningful change occurs, anyone who has had their lawful property confiscated by law enforcement should immediately consult an attorney. Recovering your seized property will be a much smoother process with help from an experienced civil asset forfeiture defense attorney.
South Florida Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has your lawful property been seized using civil asset forfeiture? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation with one of South Florida’s most experienced civil asset forfeiture defense attorneys.