Civil forfeiture is a legal tactic that allows police and prosecutors to seize cars, homes, and cash. Property owners don’t have to be convicted of a crime to lose their property—in fact, they don’t even have to be charged with one. And it gets worse. Who often gets to keep for their own use the cars and cash taken through civil forfeiture? The very cops and prosecutors who seized and forfeited the property. Unsurprisingly, abuse is rampant.
Because this system incentivizes policing for profit, civil forfeiture destroys any notion of due process or impartiality, and is incompatible with a free society.
Some states have passed laws that limit civil forfeiture or even ban it entirely. Unfortunately, state and local officials can get around these restrictions using the Justice Department’s “Equitable Sharing program.” Basically, they turn the case over to the feds in exchange for a share of the booty.
Fortunately, legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate that would curb some of the most pernicious aspects of federal civil forfeiture. The FAIR Act, sponsored by Senator Rand Paul and Representative Tim Walberg, proposes the most comprehensive overhaul of federal civil forfeiture law in decades. The FAIR Act ends Equitable Sharing for civil forfeiture, raises the burden of proof the government must meet, restores the presumption of innocence by requiring the government to prove knowledge of illegal activity, and curtails the DOJ’s profit incentive by directing forfeiture proceeds to the general fund of the Treasury.
Read IJ’s statement in support of the FAIR Act here.
But the FAIR Act faces stiff headwinds from entrenched interests—many law enforcement offices and the Department of Justice are hooked on the slush funds and more concerned with profiteering than peacekeeping. Congress needs to know that civil forfeiture reform is a winning proposition. And that’s where you come in.
As of this writing, the FAIR Act has 4 co-sponsors in the Senate and over 80 co-sponsors in the House.
You can see if your Senator is a co-sponsor of the FAIR Act here.
You can see if your Representative is a co-sponsor of the FAIR Act here.
Take Action: Call your senators and representative and urge them to support the FAIR Act! Here’s an example of something you might say:
Hello, I am calling to urge [Name of Senator/Representative] to support the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act (S.255 or H.R. 540). The FAIR Act restores the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee that no citizen shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property” without due process of law and returns our justice system to the ages-old principle of innocent until proven guilty. Please show your support for the Constitution and your constituents by doing everything in your power to pass this bill.