In 2017, the Department of Justice revived a controversial federal forfeiture program the previous administration had sharply curtailed. In defense of these “adoptive forfeitures” or “adoptions,” as well as of civil forfeiture in general, the DOJ claims that 1) civil forfeiture overwhelmingly targets criminals, not innocents, and is thus a valuable crime-fighting tool and 2) the DOJ’s forfeiture program has new “safeguards” in place to ensure adoptions do not cause innocent people to unjustly lose their property. Using the DOJ’s own data—which only partly illuminate the black box that is the federal forfeiture process—this paper finds reason to doubt these claims. Specifically, it finds that the DOJ cannot substantiate its claim that civil forfeiture fights crime. It also concludes that the DOJ’s new safeguards are unlikely to provide meaningful protection to innocent property owners.

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