No protection against civil forfeiture

There is nothing equitable about the federal forfeiture program called “equitable sharing.”

It allows the feds, in collusion with local and state law enforcement, to seize property suspected of being linked to crime. Yet 81 percent of those who have had their property taken have never been charged, much less tried.

When state or local police agencies seize money or property, they may turn the seized assets over to the federal government — making them subject to federal civil forfeiture law — and submit a claim for equitable sharing of the proceeds. Federal law provides for up to 80 percent of the asset value to go to agencies and police forces at the state or local levels.

Those funds (just over $2 billion in 2013) pay for the discounted warrior gear that police departments have been buying. Equitable sharing has enabled police to get around the traditional budget process, one in which elected leaders decide spending priorities.

When it comes to civil forfeiture, forget about the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.” In all but six states, asset owners have to prove that they and their property are not connected to criminal involvement. At the federal level, according to the Department of Justice, “civil judicial forfeiture is an action brought in court against the property. The property is the defendant and no criminal charge against the owner is necessary.”

Even more troubling is administrative forfeiture, the process by which federal agencies may declare property forfeited without judicial involvement, using only a statement of probable cause.

Resource: The Institute for Justice (, a libertarian civil liberties law firm, has published an exhaustive white paper on the problem, “Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture.”

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