Civil Asset Forfeiture

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Civil asset forfeiture laws allow police to seize property, money, or assets if police merely believe it is connected to criminal activity. Police do not have to file charges or even establish guilt in these cases before seizing and keeping property and there is no limit to what police can seize. In addition, these seizures often take place in instances where law enforcement have engaged in discriminatory profiling people of color and other minorities (e.g., traffic stops, airport searches, and train searches).

Federal forfeiture law provides law enforcement with a strong monetary interest in asset seizures. Under the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program, state and local law enforcement that turn over seized property to the federal government can pocket up to 80 percent of the forfeiture proceeds. Additionally, federal law does not require the collection or reporting of data on state, local, or federal seizures.

In essence, these laws amount to legalized theft and rest on a presumption of guilt that flies in the face of our longstanding principle that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.


The support for reforming the federal forfeiture law is broad and diverse. The Coalition for Public Safety, a bipartisan coalition of groups that includes The Leadership Conference, the ACLU, Americans for Tax Reform, Center for American Progress, Faith & Freedom Coalition, FreedomWorks, and Right on Crime, has made civil asset forfeiture reform one of its top priorities for 2015.

On January 26, 2015, Senator Rand Paul, R. Ky., introduced the FAIR Act in the Senate to address the abuses of civil asset forfeiture. There are four key components to the bill:

  • All people are promised legal representation if they are subjected to civil asset forfeiture;
  • Government officials must have “clear and convincing evidence” upon seizing assets;
  • Government officials must have compelling evidence that the person was aware of the illegal activities;
  • And ensure that courts are not “constitutionally excessive” when determining a civil asset forfeiture case.

Currently, the FAIR Act is being reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

More Information on Civil Asset Forfeiture