According to the Institute for Justice (IJ), federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies have seized more than $68 billion dollars worth of property without due process since 2000. The Virginia-based public interest law firm recently released the 3rd edition of its ‘Policing for Profit’ report, which examines civil asset forfeiture abuses by law enforcement across the U.S.
“Civil forfeiture allows police to seize property on the mere suspicion that it is involved in criminal activity,” the report states. “Prosecutors can then forfeit, or permanently keep, the property without ever charging its owner with a crime. By contrast, criminal forfeiture requires prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an owner is guilty of a crime and then, in the same proceeding, prove the property is connected to the crime.”
Many jurisdictions don’t provide a full accounting of forfeiture activity, so any estimate of its scope in the U.S. will undercount. However, the data that is available shows forfeiture activity has increased substantially in the past 30 years as a consequence of the War on Drugs. The intent was to use civil forfeiture as a weapon against drug kingpins, but IJ’s data reveals that the typical individual cash forfeiture is relatively small, indicating that the practice often does not target big-time drug dealers or fraudsters.
In many cases, the amount of cash or the value of the property seized is so small, it does not make economic sense for property owners to fight a forfeiture action.
“The heart of the problem remains poor state and federal civil forfeiture laws, which are little improved since the previous edition of Policing for Profit was published in 2015,” said Lisa Knepper, who co-authored the IJ report, in a press release. “Most laws still stack the deck against property owners and give law enforcement perverse financial incentives to pursue property over justice.”
Civil forfeiture is especially frustrating for its victims because the practice has not been shown to keep crime down. In 2015, lawmakers in New Mexico passed a bill to end civil asset forfeiture. Sheriffs and prosecutors implored the government to veto the legislation, arguing ending civil forfeiture would put public safety at risk. But five years later, those fears remain unrealized. According to an analysis of FBI data by the Institute for Justice, the predicted rise in crime never materialized. Arrest and offense rates in New Mexico have remained consistent from before and after the 2015 law went into effect.
If your money or property has been seized using civil forfeiture, then you should immediately consult a nationwide federal civil asset forfeiture attorney. An experienced attorney will help you craft a winning defense depending on the specifics of your case. In many jurisdictions, a claimant may also recover attorney fees, costs, and interest when he or she wins their case.
South Florida Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has your property been seized by police or federal agents? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and work with a nationwide federal civil asset forfeiture attorney.