Civil Asset Forfeiture

D.C. Council Proposes Pretty Decent Asset Forfeiture Reform


The District of Columbia will have one of the best asset forfeiture laws in the nation if council members pass the recently introduced Civil Asset Forfeiture Amendment Act of 2013 as is. Current law allows the city to seize peoples' property without bothering to convict them of the crime that gave rise to the forfeiture. Many suspects are never even charged.

Property owners seeking the return of confiscated property have the deck stacked against them from the outset. It can take months for owners to get a hearing before a neutral arbiter—and when they do they are presumed guilty. Those who can't afford an attorney may have to conduct a trial themselves.

The bill, which eight of 12 council members either introduced or are sponsoring, would shift the burden of proof to the government and would require the city to provide a hearing within two days of a challenge—or automatically restore the property to its owner.

Currently, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) keeps 100 percent of forfeiture revenues, an enormous incentive to police for profit. The bill would redirect all forfeiture proceeds to the city's general fund—even for cases the MPD turns over to the federal government.

Importantly, the bill undermines a federal program called equitable sharing, which allows local police to sidestep state law containing strong protections for property owners and still retain 80 percent of forfeiture proceeds by turning their cases over to the Department of Justice.

The bill also eliminates a fee the MPD charges to a property owner challenging a forfeiture, one that can sometimes exceed the value of the property. The bill requires the MPD to improve recordkeeping, notification procedures, and, in most instances, to return forfeited vehicles while an owner's case is being adjudicated.

For a taste of the District's forfeiture regime in action, check out this story via The Newspaper, in which MPD refused to return a resident's car after he had been acquitted of all charges at his criminal trial.

Click here, here, and here for more Reason coverage of civil forfeiture.

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  1. Hrm, will have to see if this passes after the police other unions get involved.

  2. So what happens to lien holders in forfeited assets. If someone is still paying a mortgage on a house that is seized, how can the bank get them to pay back the loan? Can’t foreclose on them since they are no longer in possession of the property.

    1. The government takes over the mortgage and the lien holder continues payments or else? Is that too cynical?

      1. Dammit. Meant payer above. Lien holder loses all because it’s poisoned assets and they should have known their customer better.

        1. Googling says my cynicism is a little misplaced re: federal forfeiture, they work with the lien holder to either sell the property or dispose of it in forclosure. Any net proceeds go to the forfeiture fund which can pay out to the lien holder if there’s negative equity.

          46 pages from the Marshall’s Service:
…..licy/Asset Forfeiture Manual/13.3-1.pdf

  3. The District of Columbia will have one of the best …

    That might be the first time those words have ever been printed in anything other than sarcasm.

    Seriously though. I hope this passes and I hope it sets an example that other jurisdictions will eventually follow.

    1. What’s truly disgusting is how courts have not stopped this practice.

  4. Wait, something good is being done in D.C.? Has someone checked the thermostat in Hell?

    1. Temp is stable but a sow just floated by in a dirigible. Very peculiar.

      1. Dunphy in a dirigible?

    2. It’s just a propsed bill. I doubt it will pass, and they may not even vote on it.

      Most likely some councilman just wrote it to pander to the bottom criminal class and their families.

      1. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  5. Sounds like a pretty solid plan to me dude. Wow.

  6. Speaking of avoiding asset forfeiture:

    There are credible reports that the Germans will demand that the US deliver the gold that we have been storing for them. There is no way this is anything but very bad news for the Fed and the dollar. At a minimum, it shows that the Germans don’t trust the Fed to deliver their gold if there is a crisis in the future, and they think the odds of a crisis are increasing.

    Central banks running fiat currencies operate entirely on trust and faith, and this is a sure sign that trust and faith are evaporating.

  7. The bill would redirect all forfeiture proceeds to the city’s general fund

    So then, this boils down to the politicians telling the police: “Hey, if you are going to take stuff, you have to give it to us.”

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