Yesterday, the Institute for Justice, which has long been a leader in the fight against the abusive practice of civil asset forfeiture, released a new edition of its important 2010 study Policing for Profit.
Civil asset forfeiture has been with us for centuries, but the Drug War has kicked the government’s incentives to seize property without charge or trial into high gear. Federal seizures alone have gone from tens of millions to billions of dollars a year over the last generation, while the vast majority of states still use a deficient and abusive process to take private property from citizens who haven’t been charged with any wrongdoing.
Thanks to the work of organizations like IJ, journalist exposés of numerous egregious abuses, and legislators committed to the rule of law, several states have reformed their forfeiture laws. But as the new report shows, the work is far from finished, and, despite a pledge to reform, the federal government continues to undermine state reforms while seizing billions of dollars on its own.
The key findings of the report include:
- a massive increase in civil forfeiture actions in the 21st century
- a continued burden on property owners who have to prove themselves innocent rather than being proven guilty by the state
- an abject lack of transparency about how much the government seizes and how the agencies are spending the proceeds of those seizures
- the perverse incentives provided by laws that allow executive agencies to add to their own budgets by taking property and cash from individuals
The report also includes updates to IJ’s state-by-state assessments of forfeiture laws, with 35 states and the federal government earning grades of D+ or worse.
IJ also released an excellent video to summarize their findings:
The full report can be found here. How does your state stack up?
For Cato’s explainer on the issues and abuses inherent in civil asset forfeiture, click here.