Civil forfeiture laws represent one of the most serious assaults on cars, cash and other private property by government today. In most states, prosecutors do not have to charge you, let alone convict you, for you to lose your property. And if you don’t engage in civil litigation against your own property, you may lose it in as few as 20 days. Worse of all, most states allow police and prosecutors to keep most of the forfeited property to supplement their own budgets.
This is because of poorly written, overly complex and biased civil forfeiture laws that favor police profiting from property taken from property owners well before the owners have their day in court.
These laws treat property as guilty until the owners hire lawyers, go to court, and try to obtain court orders forcing the police to return their property to them. This bizarre and costly process causes many property owners to give up and not even attempt to get back their property.
The Institute for Justice released a report called Policing for Profit: the Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture, which identified only seven states with asset forfeiture laws and practices rated as “B” or higher.
This is far too few. To help states improve their law, IJ commissioned a team of experts to draft a model criminal forfeiture law that every state legislature could adopt completely or in parts.
Building on the laws in those seven states, the comprehensive document is premised on two simple but important ideas: (1) law enforcement agencies and prosecutors should not profit from forfeiture and (2) a property owner should be found guilty of a crime before the state takes final title to his property.
As part of its commitment to protecting property rights, IJ has launched a campaign to end civil forfeiture laws and replace them with criminal forfeiture laws through litigation, legislation, and in the court of public opinion.
This model law is an important component of IJ’s strategy to ensure that every American’s property is safe from the abuse of self-enriching enforcement of asset forfeiture laws.