If you live in Maine, North Dakota, or Vermont, count your legal blessings when it comes to a legal action known as civil asset forfeiture: the seizure and government profiting of assets (like property and/or money) of people merely suspected, but not necessarily, guilty of a crime. It is not a temporary snatch and grab by authorities looking to pad their budgets and expenses but a permanent theft. If you live in Georgia, Michigan, Texas, Virginia, or West Virginia, you are more likely to suffer from this underreported crime.
The Institute for Justice just released an unprecedented report, Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture, detailing this largely unnoticed form of government eminent domain. Peace officers, at federal, state, and local levels, often don’t report what or how much they seize, putting into question the accountability of such law enforcement officials as well as the transparency of their departments and associated governments. The report details:
"For example, in 2008, for the first time in its history, the Department of Justice’s forfeiture fund topped $1 billion in assets taken from property owners and now available to law enforcement. State data reveal that state and local law enforcement also use forfeiture extensively: From 2001 to 2002, currency forfeitures alone in just nine states totaled more than $70 million. Considering this measure excludes cars and other forfeited property as well as forfeiture estimates from many states for which data were unreliable or that did not make data available for those years, this already-large figure represents just the tip of the forfeiture iceberg."
How does this affect you? If you own property and are accused of a crime, your home, boat, or other asset can be taken away from you, even if your guilt has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The law benefits ease of use by governing entities while handcuffing citizens from fighting seizure or refund. This law keeps citizens in fear of the government and in the dark of its finances.
The IJ report calls for:
- A requirement of a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt before seizure
- Placing seized revenue in a neutral fund to be tracked, reportable, and increase accountability
- Abolish Equitable Sharing (local and state agencies giving a portion of confiscated wealth to the federal government, serving as a loophole to avoid any law limiting such forfeitures)
The National Taxpayers Union is squarely against eminent domain measures taking property away from citizens, unless proven guilty, only to be pocketed by unaccountable members of government charged with upholding the law. Civil Asset Forfeiture does just that and undermines our legal system and civil rights.