J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · May 25, 2016

Washington, D.C.—Today, the House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to send the Deterring Undue Enforcement by Protecting Rights of Citizens from Excessive Searches and Seizures Act (DUE PROCESS Act) to the floor of the House of Representatives. Following today’s vote, Darpana Sheth, an attorney at the Institute for Justice who spearheads the Institute’s nationwide initiative to end civil forfeiture abuse, issued the following statement:

Today’s vote takes us one step closer to remedying some of the outrageous injustices of civil forfeiture. We urge House leadership to give this important bill swift consideration on the House floor and for the Senate Judiciary Committee to introduce a companion bill.

Every day, innocent Americans have their hard-earned savings, cars, businesses, and even their homes, taken without ever being charged with a crime, let alone convicted of one.

Just yesterday, we filed a motion demanding that the IRS immediately return more than $68,000 it had seized from a family-owned bakery more than three years ago. Only a few hours later, the IRS agreed to return the money, but only after it started to receive calls from the media. It shouldn’t take hundreds of hours in pro bono attorneys’ time and a full-scale media campaign to fight a civil forfeiture. Congress can help curtail this atrocious abuse of property rights by passing the DUE PROCESS Act.

For as far as the Act goes, we urge Congress to amend the bill to end the profit incentive fueling forfeiture abuse and abolish the federal Equitable Sharing Program, which provides a loophole for state and local law enforcement to circumvent their own state forfeiture laws.

What the DUE PROCESS Act does:

  • Provides legal representation for those who cannot afford it in administrative and judicial proceedings;
  • Raises the burden of proof necessary to forfeit property from a mere “preponderance of evidence”—informally understood as being “more likely than not” connected to a crime—to “clear and convincing”—the highest standard used in civil proceedings;
  • Restores the presumption of innocence by requiring the government to prove that owners knew about or consented to the criminal use of their property;
  • Establishes new timelines that better protect property owners’ due process rights;
  • Provides a hearing for defendants to contest the pretrial restraint of property needed to pay for counsel;
  • Allows the recovery of attorney’s fees if a case is settled;
  • Increases oversight and transparency by requiring an annual audit of federal civil forfeitures and creating two publically available databases; and
  • Limits forfeiture for structuring only when funds are derived from an illegal source or used to conceal illegal activity.