The notorious practice of civil forfeiture is once again making national news. Last week, USA TODAY published an investigative report on how the DEA searches American’s travel records in order to pursue civil forfeiture—the seizure of money or property from someone without so much as a criminal conviction. IJ Attorney Renee Flaherty was quoted in the piece:
“Going after someone’s property has nothing to do with protecting them and it has everything to do with going after the money,” said Renée Flaherty, a lawyer for the Institute for Justice, an advocacy group that has battled asset forfeiture cases.
The Atlantic followed up with a similar story of police using “a legal grey area” to take innocent people’s stuff and not give it back. The research spearheaded by IJ’s Strategic Research Director Dick Carpenter was mentioned as well. The piece referenced the rankings compiled in IJ’s 2015 national forfeiture report, Policing for Profit:
According to Dick Carpenter, the director of research at the Institute for Justice, the difficulty of getting back seized assets in New York and D.C. is representative of similar problems nationwide. The prevalence of civil forfeiture and the bureaucracy that surrounds it are generally worse in large cities, he said, but state and federal laws remain unfriendly to property holders. He co-authored a report last year that graded every state on the fairness of their civil forfeiture laws. New York got a C, and the District of Columbia got a B+. By contrast, 24 states got a D- and two—Massachusetts and North Dakota—got an F.
IJ attorney Robert Johnson, who has litigated several forfeiture cases, was also quoted in the piece, saying:
“In this country you’re supposed to be innocent until you’re proven guilty,” said Robert Johnson, an attorney at the Institute of Justice. “Civil forfeiture takes that and turns it on its head. It makes people prove their own innocence before they get their property back.”