Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform At A Glance

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What You Need to Know

  • Civil Asset Forfeiture refers to the process of the government being able to seize the assets and property of persons suspected of having gained them illegally, and seeking a judgment of forfeiture of said assets to legally transfer the property to the government.
  • One of the most contentious issues surrounding these civil asset forfeiture proceedings is the lowered burden of proof deemed necessary by the courts for the government to secure a judgment of forfeiture. For example, in a criminal case, guilt must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In forfeiture litigation, the government need only prove a “preponderance of evidence” in most states, which is a significantly lower burden of proof
  • Another major issue comes in the case of small seizures, where even if a defendant could successfully contest the forfeiture, the cost of contesting such a proceeding may be prohibitively high due to having to hire an attorney and pay court costs , and is therefore written off as a loss.
  • Additionally, in 43 states, the arresting agency is entitled to between 45 and 100 percent of the seized assets, and many states are not required to track or report their seizures or forfeitures, adding a disturbing incentive for more seizures by these agencies.
  • Civil Asset Forfeiture laws are derived from colonial-era British maritime laws, and were codified by an 1844 U.S. Supreme Court Decision. They were largely dormant in the 20th century, aside from Prohibition and the rise of illegal drugs during the 1980’s.
  • These laws are outdated, and reform is clearly necessary. Luckily, since 2014, 24 states and the District of Columbia have passed civil asset forfeiture reform, with three states: North Carolina, New Mexico, and Nebraska, completely abolishing the practice.
  • Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform is not a partisan issue; it is about reforming outdated laws and protecting and individual’s due process and private property rights.

ALEC Model Policy on Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

Reporting of Seizure and Forfeiture Act – Maryland’s S.B. 161 and Mississippi’s H.B. 812 (both passed in 2016) contain provisions of this act

The Asset Forfeiture Process and Private Property Protection Act


State Factor: 2016: A Successful Year for Criminal Justice Reform and Path to the Future – A Comprehensive look at Criminal Justice Reform for 2016 including in depth analysis of civil asset forfeiture reform efforts

After 500 Years, Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Long Overdue– A study of the history of civil asset forfeiture, and an argument for why these laws are unnecessary, dangerous, and in need of reform