In less than three years, 19 states and Washington, D.C. have passed laws to limit or shine a light on civil forfeiture. Building on those successes, lawmakers in nearly 20 states have introduced similar bills. In an op-ed today for The Wall Street Journal, Senior Legislative Counsel Lee McGrath and I survey the national landscape for reform, where “interest in stopping civil forfeiture has never been greater:”
Today more than 40 states and the federal government permit law-enforcement agencies to retain anywhere from 45% to 100% of forfeiture proceeds. As a result, forfeiture has practically become an industry.
The Institute for Justice, where we work, has obtained data on asset forfeiture across 14 states, including California, Texas and New York. Between 2002 and 2013, the revenue from forfeiture more than doubled, from $107 million to $250 million. Federal confiscations have risen even faster. In 1986 the Justice Department’s Assets Forfeiture Fund collected $93.7 million. In 2014 the number was $4.5 billion.
To prevent these abuses, lawmakers in Alaska, Connecticut, North Dakota and Texas have sponsored legislation that would send confiscated proceeds directly to the general fund of the state or county. Similar measures in Arizona and Hawaii would restrict forfeiture proceeds to being used to compensate crime victims and their families.
We also counter egregious claims made by one sheriff who tried to defend civil forfeiture:
America’s sheriffs have given President Trump a woefully inaccurate view of civil asset forfeiture—the process through which police seize, and prosecutors literally sue, cash, cars and real estate that they suspect may be connected to a crime. “People want to say we’re taking money and without due process. That’s not true,” a Kentucky sheriff told the president last month at a White House meeting. Critics of forfeiture, the sheriff added, simply “make up stories.”
In fact, thousands of Americans have had their assets taken without ever being charged with a crime, let alone convicted. Russ Caswell almost lost his Massachusetts motel, which had been run by his family for more than 50 years, because of 15 “drug-related incidents” there from 1994-2008, a period through which he rented out nearly 200,000 rooms.
Read the whole op-ed here.