CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE FACT SHEET
WHAT IS CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE
Civil asset forfeiture allows police to seize property in the absence of a criminal
charge or the establishment of guilt if police believe they find any evidence of a drug-related
crime. There is no proportionlity test - if police find one marijuana plant, for example,
they can seize and keep an entire house.
Civil asset forfeiture also has built-in opportunities for abuse. Police are allowed to keep
what they seize and in many jurisdictions they budget for anticipated seizures, making it
necessary to reach a certain quota.
ABSENCE OF CRIMINAL CHARGE OR ESTABLISHMENT OF GUILT
- In more than 80 percent of asset forfeiture cases the owner of the property is never
charged with a crime, yet government officials can and usually do keep the seized
- "Nothing less than the sanctity of private property is at stake here." - Rep. Henry Hyde
(R-Ill.) in a June 22, 1995 press release.
- The most shocking story, according to Rep. Hyde, was the murder of 61 - year old
millionaire Donald Scott in front of his wife. Federal officials believed that there was
marijuana on Scott's ranch. They were wrong - there wasn't any.
INCENTIVES FOR ABUSES WITHIN THE SYSTEM
- The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 provided that state and local police agencies
may keep 80 percent of seized assets when federal agents are involved. This provision gives
law enforcement the power to "go federal" and bypass more restrictive and just state laws.
In Kansas City, police have "gone federal" to circumvent a state law that mandates that the
proceeds from all assets seized must go to the public school system. By using the federal
provision, Kansas City cops have kept loot.
- Police are required by federal law to use seized assets for "law enforcement purposes."
In Warren County, N.J. this means that the chief assistant prosecutor drives a yellow
Corvette seized in a CAF case.
- According to the General Accounting Office, cash, which is one of the most commonly
seized assets, is frequently "mismanaged," and is ripe for theft by police.2
LACK OF A PROPORTIONALITY TEST
- There is no limit on the assets law enforcement can seize for even the smallest of
violations. If a law enforcement agent were to find a marijuana plant growing in someone's
backyard, or on their farm, they could seize the entire farm or house, along with the
owner's vehicles and anything else owned by that person.
RAISING THE STANDARD
- Currently the law calls for citizens to prove tha their property is "innocent" by a
preponderance of the evidence. The citizen in question must prove that the property in
question was not used in commission of a crime.
- Raising that standard to the higher "clear and convincing" standard of proof would
lessen abuses. Other groups endorsing this provision include the American Bankers
Association, Americans for Tax Reform and the Institute for Justice.
WHAT DOES LAW ENFORCEMENT DO WITH SEIZED ASSETS?
- An Aug. 22, 1997 Dateline NBC broadcast revealed that Louisiana police have spent money
gained from asset forfeiture on ski trips to Aspen, Colo., meals at local restaurants
and shopping trips to Wal-Mart.
- According to the National Association of Criminal Deense Lawyers, agents often pay
informants 25 percent of the assets seized in exchange for a tip.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Isn't civil asset forfeiture mostly aimed at big drug cartel leaders and not everyday
No. While the law may have been intended to punish those foreign cartel leader by seizing
their U.S. assets, but state and local law enforcement have used the law whenever possible.
Law enforcement even seized a research vessel from the University of Calfornia-San Diego's
Oceanography Department when a crew member had a tiny amount of marijuana.
Who is in favor of civil asset forfeiture?
The Department of Justive and police departments that benefit from the sale or distribution
of seized assets don't want their cash cow taken away from them. The last time Rep. Hyde tried
to push a civil asset forfeiture reform bill through the House, it was the Department of
Justice that intervened and killed the bill.
1Andrew Schneider and Mary Pat Flaherty, "Presumed Guilty:
The Law's Victims in the War on Drugs," Pittsburgh Press Aug. 11-Setp. 16, 1991.
2General Accounting Office, Asset Forfeiture, Historical
Perpectives on Asset Forfeiture Issues. GAO/T-GGD-96-40, Washington, D.C. 1996.