Send a Letter to Congress
Let’s be clear about what civil asset forfeiture is not:
- It’s not confiscation of contraband or illegal goods
- It’s not property that has been withheld as evidence during a criminal investigation.
- It’s not a fine or restitution imposed on someone duly convicted of a crime
Civil asset forfeiture is a specific legal term referring to the seizure and forfeiture of property in a civil process where the criminal guilt or innocence of individuals are irrelevant. In civil forfeiture, the property is prosecuted under the legal fiction that it is a person.
Civil asset forfeiture laws at the state and federal level allow government agencies to keep revenues from asset forfeiture. This creates government agencies that don’t have to depend on Congress or any elected body for money that can be raised through property seizure instead. This system incentivizes government agencies to always seek to seize more seizure revenue to sustain budgets, to enforce laws punitively and with an eye for economic gain, and to gain de facto independence in setting enforcement priorities and procedures.
The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000
Congress had the opportunity to address forfeiture reform with the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA) of 2000. Unfortunately, Attorney General Janet Reno was able to gut CAFRA’s most meaningful reforms in Congress, and the government has yet to fully implement many of the reforms favoring claimants contained within CAFRA. Over a decade later, it’s time to abolish asset forfeiture altogether.
The 1984 Comprehensive Crime Control Act allows state and local law enforcement agencies to transfer assets and property they seize to federal law enforcement agencies for processing and liquidation. A kickback of up to 80% is then returned directly to the state or local law enforcement agency (in 1993, the 5th Circuit called this system equivalent to “illicit money laundering” if conducted by a private party). In practice, this program subverts the direct intent of state Constitutions and statutory laws, which often provide greater protection to property owners than is available under federal law. Moreover, this allows state and local law enforcement to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue with little to no accountability, money that is often spent on enforcement priorities and programs that are unwanted by citizens.
Asset Forfeiture and American Jobs
As government agencies increasingly use civil asset forfeiture as a tool for regulatory enforcement, American business and jobs suffer. That’s because civil forfeiture is an unjust enforcement tool that denies property due process by allowing property to be seized prior to a hearing, or independent of criminal or other appropriate civil sanctions. Government agencies also become dependent on the laws that allow them to keep forfeiture revenue, incentivizing over-enforcement of regulations for the benefit of unelected bureaucrats and their agency revenue.
The War on Drugs
Asset forfeiture revenues comprise a substantial structural funding mechanism for the practice of the War on Drugs at the local, state, and federal levels. Without being able to keep forfeiture revenues for direct use, drug enforcement would not exist in the militarized, uncontrollable fashion that it does in the status quo.
Americans for Forfeiture Reform advocates the following three reforms to federal asset forfeiture:
- End Equitable Sharing of forfeiture revenues with state and local law enforcement. Revenue-sharing is not a law enforcement function, it is a legislative function, and should be negotiated as such.
- End agency retention of forfeiture revenues. Send all forfeiture revenues to Congress for appropriation.
- Abolish civil asset forfeiture. If justice requires restitution or the forfeiture of property, the law will still allow judges to punish criminals effectively through the sentencing process.
Use the form at right to send your elected representatives a letter about this issue. It’s easy!
- Your position will be counted by each Congressional office,
- Will educate the Congressional staffer who reads it,
- May be passed up the chain of command,
- May receive a reply. If you receive such a letter, please share it with us at Eapen@ForfeitureReform.com.
Send a letter to Congress
Use the form below to write a letter to Congress. We’ll use your zip code to direct your message to the appropriate US Representative and US Senate office.