Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws Allow the Government to Seize Property Without a Crime

Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws Allow the Government to Seize Property Without a Crime

 “Civil asset forfeiture has allowed police to view all of America as some giant national K-Mart, where prices are not just lower, but non-existent – a sort of law enforcement ‘pick-and-don’t-pay.”

Incredible as it sounds, civil asset forfeiture laws allow the government to seize property without charging anyone with a crime.  The government is allowed to keep whatever property it seized without ever having to prove a case. Seized property was presumed guilty and could be forfeited based upon mere hearsay—even a tip supplied by by an informant who stood to gain up to 25% of the forfeited informant .  Owners were forced into the untenable situation of trying to prove a negative—that something never happened, even though no proof of any illegal act had been offered at trial. Newspapers and television stories across the nation documented hundreds of cases of innocent citizens wrongfully deprived of their homes, businesses and livelihoods.  Eighty percent of property forfeited to the US during the previous decade was seized from owners who were never even charged with a crime!


Home taken because son had $40 worth of heroin

Because the police are occupied with seizing assets, fewer police are available to investigate crimes that do not involve forfeiture.  Yet police and prosecutors love forfeiture because it brings in revenue for their departments.  Even today, law enforcement officials and prosecutors comprise the overwhelming majority of lobbyists at hearings on forfeiture bills. Until FEAR began lobbying for forfeiture reform, police and prosecutors were usually the only witnesses at hearings on forfeiture legislation.

Over 200 federal forfeiture laws are attached to non-drug related crimes.  Even a false statement on a loan application can trigger forfeiture. Physicians are subject to forfeiture of their entire assets based on a clerical errors in medicare billing. The government even tried to forfeit a farmer’s tractor for allegedly running over an endangered rat. The federal government obtained a judgment of forfeiture against the prized sailboat “Flash II,” once owned by the late John F. Kennedy, without bothering to provide notice to the principle owner of the forfeiture proceeding against the sloop.  It took several years of expensive litigation before the district court in Massachusetts ruled the historic sailboat had never been legally subject to forfeiture; that the government had no right to seize and then sell the sloop; and that the proceeds of that sale rightfully belong to the innocent owner.

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