Asset Forfeiture

Bipartisan Pack of Lawmakers Fights Legal Theft by Police with New House Bill

Reforms would give people more protections from asset forfeiture abuse.

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Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner
Official Congressional Portrait

Four House members on both sides of the aisle today are pushing forward legislation to reform the federal rules for civil asset forfeiture.

Civil asset forfeiture is the process by which law enforcement agencies and prosecutors are able to seize and keep property and assets from people based on the suspicion that it is connected with crime. The system is prone to abuse because police in a "civil" system do not have to prove that a suspect is guilty of a crime or even charge them with a crime. And because it's a "civil" procedure instead of a criminal process, those who get caught up in it often are not guaranteed a lawyer to help them resist, and the government has a lower burden of proof to win its case.

There have been many efforts to reform asset forfeiture on the state level, but there's a snag—the Department of Justice's "equitable sharing" asset forfeiture program often gives local law enforcement agencies a loophole around tighter state-level regulations. So in many cases, state level reforms are not enough. There need to be changes to the federal rules as well.

That's where Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), step in. They have introduced the DUE PROCESS Act to make it harder for federal officials to seize property.

Yes, "DUE PROCESS" here is an acronym, standing in for the "Deterring Undue Enforcement by Protecting Rights of Citizens from Excessive Searches and Seizures Act of 2016." It does not, unfortunately, eliminate civil forfeiture entirely and require convictions. It does make it much harder for civil forfeiture to be used and gives citizens more opportunities to defend themselves.

In a statement announcing the bill's introduction, Sensenbrenner says, "Forfeiture is a critical tool in the fight against crime, but it is also vulnerable to abuse. The DUE PROCESS Act, among other things, will increase transparency and add protections for innocent property owners, including the opportunity to contest seizures and regain illegally seized property immediately. Reform to the current federal forfeiture laws is necessary to curb abuse, restore confidence in law enforcement, and help citizens protect their property rights."

The Institute for Justice, which fights against civil forfeiture abuse across the country, put out a statement calling the bill a "bold step in the right direction to remedy some of the injustices of civil forfeiture." They also provide a helpful bulletpoint list of what the bill actually does that I'm just going to cut and paste:

  • Provides legal representation for those who cannot afford it in administrative and judicial proceedings;
  • Raises the burden of proof necessary to forfeit property from a mere "preponderance of evidence"—informally understood as being "more likely than not" connected to a crime—to "clear and convincing"—the highest standard used in civil proceedings;
  • Restores the presumption of innocence by requiring the government to prove that owners knew about or consented to the criminal use of their property;
  • Establishes new timelines that better protect property owners' due process rights;
  • Provides a hearing for defendants to contest the pretrial restraint of property needed to pay for counsel;
  • Allows the recovery of attorney's fees if a case is settled;
  • Increases oversight and transparency by requiring an annual audit of federal civil forfeitures and creating two publically available databases; and
  • Limits forfeiture for structuring only when funds are derived from an illegal source or used to conceal illegal activity.

Despite the praise, the Institute for Justice is calling for the bill to be amended to completely eliminate the DOJ's Equitable Sharing Program.

Read more from Reason on asset forfeiture abuses here

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  1. I predict this will go nowhere.

  2. I hate when people say reform asset forfeiture. how about fucking end asset forfeiture?

    And who the hell is Michael Robertson? some reason fellow?

    1. Michael Robertson is #1. He is worth 2 points, it seems.

      1. Do you have to purchase the ability to make promoted comments? I might just buy some so every comment thread starts of with “Titty sprinkles”.

        1. I’m intrigued by your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter contribute to your kickstarter.

          1. I’d be interested in purchasing some sprinkles.

        2. Dammit, I was gonna use “Butt Munch.” Now I’ll have competition.

    2. I don’t know, but it won’t let me down vote him.

    3. Since 1929 the feds have kept folks from tumbling to the Depression having been caused by the 18th Amendment working with the 16th Amendment. Certainly mystical prohibitionism and looter ideology were what justified shooting homeowners, padlocking properties, asset forfeiture grabs, doubling the prison population, wrecking securities markets and breaking banks and financial institutions. I have high hopes someone will be able to follow the causal connections between prohibition and the crashes–especially those of 1987 and 2007. Until then, coverup efforts in the form of repeal are better than no progress at all. I thank Reason and the LP for making this happen.

    4. “how about fucking end asset forfeiture?”

      Don’t you realize that the only way to end crime is to fight fire with fire? If they steal, then we have to steal. If they kill then we have to kill. That’s the difference between us and criminals.

  3. Face: Punchable.
    Principles: Commendable.

    1. His principles (at least in this case) are rad, but his face looks somehow like it would be sort of sticky.

      1. Izzis a tar-baby joke to please the conservatives?

  4. Sheila Jackson-Lee is a wackaloon, but at least she’s on the right side for once.

    1. This is the clown who visited JPL and asked if the Mars Rover could visit Tranquility Base.

  5. Shackford, I was just praising your alt-texting abilities in another thread, and this is how you thank me? Way to embarrass me with some Gillespie-level alt-texting!

    1. Patience will be rewarded.

      (Also, I feel like I need to do that with mugshots for guys who aren’t easily recognizable.)

      1. He does resemble a generic lump of partially melted cheese.

        1. Man, Chris Farley really hasn’t aged well. I guess that’s what happens when you live in a van down by the river.

          1. *golf clap*

          2. I was unaware that Chris Farley had mated with Rosie O’Donnell.

          3. Good joke, but needs editing. Brevity, being the soul of wit, your joke would have been better as:

            ‘All this from a guy who lives in a van down by the river.’

            Scott S could have hit the ball out of the park with the alt-text “Lives in van, down by river”

            1. Watch out guys, we got a comedian over here

              1. I used to politely tell Katherine Mangu Ward that we’d handle the jokes in the comments. These things really should be left up to professionals.

  6. Nice alt text.

  7. This is why they have committees. So they can kill good legislation like this without a vote.

    1. That and put on a show of bipartisan kleptocrats pretending the asset forfeiture looting is going to go away… until after the election is safely over with. Only a bumper cop of libertarian spoiler votes can really make it happen.

  8. Despite the praise, the Institute for Justice is calling for the bill to be amended to completely eliminate the DOJ’s Equitable Sharing Program.

    Let’s not get ahead of ourselves now.

  9. Someone obviously got an A+ in their Acronyms 101 course.

  10. “”Deterring Undue Enforcement by Protecting Rights of Citizens from Excessive Searches and Seizures Act of 2016.”

    AKA The Statute Formerly Known as The 4th Amendment.

  11. Good ol’ Sensenbrenner, the guy who protected us from the terrorists with the PATRIOT ACT and then protected us from the people protecting us from the terrorists with the USA FREEDOM Act and now he’s protecting us with the DUE PROCESS Act. That guy sure can come up with the names, can’t he? If only he spent a little more time thinking up ways for the legislation to work instead of coming up with cutsie names, because the first two were some real abortions. Why don’t you try coming up with a DIAF JIM Act?

  12. Bush dynasty asset forfeiture–like Herber Hoover’s concurrent state & federal enforcement of beer prohibition laws–completely wrecked the economy by stealing people’s homes at gunpoint. All of the state legalization stampedes have arisen since the 2007 meltdown, and looters are struggling to keep voters from understanding the connection and voting libertarian.
    Rotsa ruck on that one…

  13. RE: Bipartisan Pack of Lawmakers Fights Legal Theft by Police with New House Bill
    Reforms would give people more protections from asset forfeiture abuse.Bipartisan Pack of Lawmakers Fights Legal Theft by Police with New House Bill
    Reforms would give people more protections from asset forfeiture abuse.

    This is heresy at its pinnacle.
    Everyone knows the government is entitled to the little peoples’s property.
    Where’s Joseph Stalin when you need him?

  14. I’d support this, but I have sworn a blood oath to oppose any and all bills with cutesy acronyms.

  15. Why not just throw people in jail or execute them based on the suspicion that they are connected to a crime?

    1. Or that they might, conceivably have some connection to a crime in the future.

  16. First, cotton & now this. Is our country really that fucked-up?
    *A puchline to this joke, please*

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