Forfeiture has been a part of the American justice system for more than 200 years. It has been a tool used by law enforcement – both local and federal – to fight criminal activity, such as drug trafficking.
However, over the years, there have been numerous cases of abuse in the forfeiture process, specifically in civil cases. These abuses threaten citizens’ constitutional rights, put unnecessary burdens on innocent Americans, and weaken our faith in law enforcement.
While I disagree with the decision by Attorney General Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsGOP senator blames media for Trump-Sessions tension Ann Coulter: Trump needs to ‘be a man’ in dealing with AG Sessions Trump won’t say if he’ll fire Sessions MORE and his Department of Justice to expand the federal asset forfeiture program in the coming months, the expansion makes it more important than ever that Congress pass reform measures.
I have long been a supporter of criminal asset forfeiture – the seizure of property after the conviction of crime—but with civil asset forfeiture, law enforcement has a direct economic incentive to take people’s property without ever even charging them with a crime.
Civil forfeiture cases make a mockery of the Constitution and its protection of private property by creating the legal fiction that the property itself is the defendant in a crime. The law pretends that inanimate objects have committed wrongdoing and then assumes that property should be entitled to fewer procedural protections than people. For innocent individuals, getting seized property back can be a long, onerous, and often prohibitively expensive process.
According to a Washington Post investigation, nearly 62,000 cash seizures have occurred since Sept. 11, 2001, and only a sixth of those cases were legally challenged. This is partly due to the high costs of bringing legal action against the government. Because law enforcement can seize assets despite the innocence of a property owner, many…