J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · October 15, 2018

With the midterms just three weeks away, a new poll found widespread opposition to civil forfeiture, a controversial practice that lets law enforcement agencies seize and keep property, without a criminal conviction or even filing charges.

Conducted by the Institute for Justice and YouGov, the poll found that 76 percent of Americans would be more likely to vote for a congressional candidate who wants to require a criminal conviction or raise the standard of proof to forfeit property. A majority of Americans across all gender, age, marital status, income level, and geographical location brackets would be more likely to back a member of Congress who supports forfeiture reform.

“With politics deeply divided, it’s encouraging to see so many Americans unite against civil forfeiture, one of the greatest threats to private property rights today,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Darpana Sheth, who spearheads IJ’s National Initiative to End Forfeiture Abuse.

The IJ/YouGov poll also found that 59 percent of Americans opposed civil forfeiture, with only 25 percent in favor. Opposition was even stronger against the financial incentives that drive civil forfeiture: 63 percent opposed letting law enforcement keep the proceeds from forfeited property, a practice currently allowed by the federal government and more than 40 states.

Likewise, 69 percent of Americans oppose equitable sharing, a program that lets local and state agencies work with federal officials to confiscate property and bypass tougher state laws. Last year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions expanded equitable sharing, which triggered unanimous votes in the House of Representatives to defund the expansion. Unfortunately, those efforts were ultimately killed this past spring.

Two bipartisan bills have been introduced in Congress to reform civil forfeiture, the DUE PROCESS Act (H.R. 1795) and the FAIR Act (H.R. 1555/S. 642).  Each bill would add new protections for citizens whose property is seized, while the FAIR Act would also abolish equitable sharing. The chairmen of both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees have each publicly committed to meaningful forfeiture reform as well, but neither has advanced legislation during this Congress.

“This poll shows what we have long known: Voters do not like current civil forfeiture practices,” Sheth added. “Regardless of who controls Congress after November, it’s time to get serious about reform.”

Key Facts about Civil Forfeiture

  • In their 2016 party platforms, both the Republican and Democratic Parties condemned civil forfeiture and called for reform.
  • Since 2000, local and state law enforcement agencies have collected over $6 billion through equitable sharing, an audit by the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Justice revealed last year.
  • Since 2014, 29 states have reformed their forfeiture laws, while seven states have enacted safeguards against equitable sharing.
  • The IJ/YouGov poll surveyed over 1,200 American adults online between October 2 and 3. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Americans over 18.