Senators Call for Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

June 05, 2017 by

A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators sent a letter to the Department of Justice urging top law enforcement to reform civil asset forfeiture laws.

Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Rand Paul (R-KY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and Angus King (I-VT), sent the letter last week asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to lead his department in reforming asset forfeiture laws instead of waiting on the U.S. Supreme Court to opine.

Civil asset forfeiture is the process in which law enforcement entities can seize a person’s assets without charging them with a crime. Technically, since it’s the property that’s charged with the crime, owners never have to be charged or even accused to have their property seized. As expected due to its size, the federal government is the largest abuser of the practice.

“In particular, we are concerned that the federal government uses civil asset forfeiture to seize individuals’ property without affording the benefit of predeprivation judicial process and is not required to show the property owner used the property to commit a crime or even knew the property would be used in the commission of a crime,” reads the letter.

It goes on to voice opposition to the continued use of the federal government’s equitable sharing program.

The program is seen by many as a perverse incentive for local law enforcement entities to seize property. Through the program, when a local entity takes part in a seizure, the federal government gives them a percentage of the forfeited funds. While some states have reformed their laws to strictly limit when their local agencies can take part in equitable sharing, many –  including Texas – have not.

In addition, the program can bypass state laws that govern seizures, since it is a federal program.

The letter also references Justice Thomas’ comments earlier this year about civil asset forfeiture. Thomas voiced concern about the abuse of this practice.

“You need not wait for Supreme Court censure before reforming these practices, and, in any event, the Department of Justice should err on the side of protecting constitutional rights. We encourage the Department to revise its civil asset forfeiture practices to reflect our nation’s commitment to the rule of law and due process.”

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About the Author

Charles operates the Houston office for Empower Texans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.