What you should know about civil asset forfeiture

Report on Civil Asset Forfeiture Aimed at Helping People Avoid Government Injustice

by Dan Greenberg, Competitive Enterprise Institute

A new Competitive Enterprise Institute report calls attention to a government injustice impacting too many Americans: civil asset forfeiture. The report offers advice to citizens on how to reduce risk of property seizure by law enforcement officials, such as during traffic stops, and explains how government succeeds in seizing and keeping personal property even without a criminal conviction. (Read full report – 66 pages)

Here is the executive summary:

Law enforcement officers in the United States seize billions of dollars in cash and other personal property from members of the public every year. Most of this seized property is eventually forfeited to state and federal governments. These seizures and forfeitures rarely require proof of criminal conduct; rather, they often rest merely on the suspicion that the property in question is related to a crime. As critics of these practices have noted, seizure and forfeiture sometimes result in confiscation of the property of innocent, law-abiding civilians. Furthermore, because the proceeds of forfeiture typically go straight to law enforcement budgets, this creates perverse incentives that make it more likely that law enforcement officers and prosecutors might devote disproportionate effort to this endeavor.

This paper explains how seizure and forfeiture work. More precisely, it contains an account of the relatively minimal legal protections that law-abiding civilians have against both seizure and forfeiture. The paper also provides strategies that the law-abiding civilian can use to reduce the chance of having property seized while traveling.