The Institute for Justice aims to curtail, and ultimately, abolish civil forfeiture, one of the gravest abuses of power in the country today. Unlike criminal forfeiture, which takes property from convicted criminals, under civil forfeiture, property owners do not have to be convicted of a crime, or even charged with one, to permanently lose their cash, cars, businesses or even their homes.
- IJ recently released the second edition for our groundbreaking survey, Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture, which analyzed civil forfeiture laws in all 50 states and relating to the federal government. The report graded the states on how well they protect property owners: Only seven states and the District of Columbia received a “B” or better.
- In 2016, we launched new lawsuits challenging civil forfeiture in Arizona, California, Indiana and New Mexico, and successfully won back cash that was wrongfully seized from a Burmese Christian rock band. Partly in response to IJ’s advocacy and litigation, the IRS also announced a new policy to return cash taken under structuring laws.
- We have forced the IRS to return cash it unjustly seized from a grocery store owner in Michigan, a restaurant owner in Iowa, a distribution company on Long Island, N.Y., a bakery in Connecticut, a dairy farmer in Maryland, and two convenience store owners in North Carolina. Our litigation also saved a Massachusetts motel from forfeiture and shined a light on law enforcement slush funds in Georgia.
- Since 2014, 28 states and the District of Columbia have passed forfeiture reforms.
- Our fight against civil forfeiture has been covered by The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
- Since IJ launched its “End Forfeiture” initiative in 2014, more than 300 editorials from almost 125 separate media outlets have called to reform or outright abolish civil forfeiture.
Americans threatened with civil forfeiture face an appalling lack of due process that treats property owners worse than criminals:
Profit Incentive: In 43 states, police and prosecutors can keep anywhere from half to all of the proceeds they take in from civil forfeiture—a clear incentive to police for profit.
Equitable Sharing: Under a federal program called “equitable sharing,” local and state law enforcement can bypass state laws that limit civil forfeiture. By collaborating with a federal agency, they can move to forfeit property under federal law and take up to 80 percent of what the property is worth. Granting law enforcement a direct financial stake in forfeiture encourages profiteering and not the pursuit of justice.
Burden of Proof: Nearly all states and the federal government require far less evidence than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard for criminal convictions.
Guilty Until Proven Innocent: While many civil forfeiture laws do have a process for innocent owners to reclaim their property, all too often the burden of proof is on the owner—not the government. Therefore, under civil forfeiture, property owners have to prove their innocence and show that they were not aware of any criminal activity.
To roll back civil forfeiture, IJ has filed multiple lawsuits, written several publications scrutinizing the practice and led bipartisan efforts to enact legislative reforms. Through our efforts, we are determined to beat back civil forfeiture both in the court of law and court of public opinion.