Civil asset forfeiture is one of the hottest issues in 2019.
It is one of the few issues that has witnessed considerable progress at the state level.
The Conversation updated its post about what civil asset forfeiture entails.
It started off by describing civil asset forfeiture.
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According to author Nora V. Demleitner, Professor of Criminal and Comparative Law at Washington and Lee University, civil asset forfeiture laws “let authorities, such as federal marshals or local sheriffs, seize property – cash, a house, a car, a cellphone – that they suspect is involved in criminal activity.”
Justice Department data highlight that the federal government confiscated a total of $28 billion in assets. Unlike criminal forfeiture, which mandates that a property owner receive a criminal conviction before having their property taken, civil forfeiture “doesn’t require that the suspect be charged with breaking the law.”
According to Demleitner, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are the main agencies that engage in the majority of asset forfeiture cases.
Indeed, certain states such as Alabama and North Dakota have passed certain asset forfeiture reforms that limit the state’s ability to arbitrarily seize property. Nevertheless, unscrupulous politicians always try to find ways to undermine our rights. One of those is through the use of “equitable sharing” where state and local governments seize assets and then let the federal government “adopt” the seized assets.
Eventually, the local and state entities get a cut of the proceeds.
People can technically get their property back. On paper, governments must prove that the seized property was used in a crime. However, the majority of property owners have to prove that they legally obtained their belongings before having them returned. In other words, the burden is on the owners to fight asset forfeiture in court.
The studies on the number of people who get their property returned to them are not complete. However, a report from the Justice Department’s inspector general indicates that 8 percent of all property owners who had their cash seized by the DEA had it returned to them from 2006 to 2016.
Civil asset forfeiture has opposition from across the political spectrum, from conservatives to progressives. In 2019, the Big League Politics reported on the Supreme Court’s decision to apply constitutional protections against excessive fines to not only federal authorities but also to the states.
Asset forfeiture has been a big cash cow for the federal government, when it started out raising $94 million in 1986 while ballooning to $4.5 billion in 2014.
In today’s divisive political environment, civil asset forfeiture is one issue that can bring both sides of the political aisle together.