With civil asset forfeiture making a huge comeback under Jeff Sessions and the current justice department, having an understanding of the laws is more pertinent than ever.
Civil asset forfeiture laws vary by state, so depending on where you live, you might not need to worry about it at all. However, with federal laws possibly becoming more far-reaching and strict in the near future, it’s good to know what you’re up against. To start the new year, here are a some facts about civil asset forfeiture that might be surprising to you.
- Between 2001 and 2014, law enforcement seized assets worth $29 billion. This includes both cash and the value of goods seized.
- Forfeiture was originally established to combat large-scale criminal organizations by slowly chipping away at the value of their operations.
- In practice, the “big fish” are usually not the ones being targeted, as average seizure amounts in some areas indicate:
- California, 2013: average seizure of $5,145
- Cook County, Illinois, 2012-2017: average seizure of $1,049
- Washington, D.C., 2009-2014: average seizure of $141
- Civil forfeiture laws allow law enforcement to seize money and property that they suspect is connected to criminal activity.
- To recover their property, owners must enter an expensive legal process where the odds are often stacked against them. This is exacerbated by the fact that law enforcement gets to keep the proceeds, which some argue creates incentives to seize property even when there is no evidence of a crime.
- Between 2012 and 2017, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in New York spent $3.25 million in seized assets to give its prosecutors bonuses.
- Asset forfeiture laws expanded after the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. The government spent millions of dollars to train police on new “highway interdiction” stops, encouraging them to look for drugs and other contraband. Since then, state law enforcement has been 61,998 cash seizures without warrants or indictments through a federal program called Equitable Sharing.
- According to a story by the Washington Post, law enforcement took more property from American citizens then burglars did in 2014.
Despite all of these hard-hitting facts and numbers about civil asset forfeiture, there is good news. The practice is becoming more and more controversial with each unjust seizure of goods, essentially creating its own adversaries.
- In September of 2014, Washington, D.C. paid nearly $1 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by the Public Defender Service on behalf of property owners whose cars had been seized without due process.
- In 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a reform bill that requires a criminal conviction before law enforcement can permanently take assets worth less than $40,000 from someone. Georgia legislators are looking to follow suit, with a Republican State Senator introducing a similar bill in his own state.
- Former Washington, D.C. police chief Kathy Lanier supported the goals of a major reform bill that slashed financial incentives for law enforcement to take property by ending the Equitable Sharing partnership with the federal government.
Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
If your lawful property has been seized, then you should hire a lawyer. Contact us to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of Florida’s most experienced civil forfeiture defense attorneys.