A new study by the Institute for Justice finds local and federal governments have confiscated nearly $70 billion from Americans over the last 20 years.
That’s without any of the individuals being convicted of any crime, according to “Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture.”.
See the institute’s explanation:
It’s the third edition of the report, which includes 17 million data points from 45 states, the District of Columbia and the federal government.
It reveals a “massive nationwide problem,” with governments taking “at least $68.8 billion – that we know of.”
Not all states provided information.
“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 IJ senior director of strategic research and report co-author Lisa Knepper. “Most laws still stack the deck against property owners and give law enforcement perverse financial incentives to pursue property over justice.”
The report gives a grade of D+ or worse to 35 states and the federal government. New Mexico earned the report’s only A, largely based on a reform that removed many options for civil forfeiture and directed all proceeds to the state’s general fund.
“Importantly, New Mexico’s reform has not compromised public safety, according to a new analysis published in the report. Compared to neighboring Texas and Colorado, New Mexico’s crime rates remained steady in the months and years following the reform, suggesting forfeiture does not deter crime and law enforcement are able to do their jobs without forfeiture proceeds,” IJ said.
The report also shows forfeiture procedures seldom target big-time criminals.
“Data from 21 states show half of all currency forfeitures are worth less than $1,300, hardly the stuff of vast criminal enterprises and far less than it would cost to hire an attorney to fight back,” said IJ.
“Despite its national prevalence and popularity with police and prosecutors, civil forfeiture simply doesn’t work,” said IJ senior research analyst and report co-author Jennifer McDonald. “It doesn’t fight crime, it doesn’t target criminal kingpins, and it doesn’t support crime victims or community programs.”
Civil forfeiture happens when police, or some other law enforcement officer, come across cash or a valuable asset then claim it might have been used in or the result of a crime. Often the owners never are charged, but they then must go to court to obtain the return of their private property.
Part of the problem is that frequently law enforcement agencies that confiscate cash or assets benefit from them if the owner is unable to fund a court fight to get it back.
“No one should ever lose their property without first being convicted of a crime, but lawmakers should be especially concerned about forfeiture abuse now, as local governments face increased fiscal pressure amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Knepper.
The report recommends that all civil forfeiture procedures be eliminated.