Civil Asset Forfeiture

Rand Paul Tries (Again!) To Make It Harder for Police To Take Your Stuff

Federal civil asset forfeiture bill reintroduced as police reform efforts hit a partisan wall.


Amid popular calls for policing reform, a handful of senators are resurrecting a bill to make it harder for police to take people's property without first convicting them of crimes.

Sens. Rand Paul (R–Ky.), Mike Lee (R–Utah), Mike Crapo (R–Idaho), and Angus King (I–Maine) reintroduced the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act this week to significantly restrain the federal use of civil asset forfeiture, a practice that lets police and prosecutors seize and keep property they claim are associated with criminal activity.

Because the process is "civil," it often allows police to do this without ever proving the property owner has committed a crime, or even charging them with criminal action. Those facing the forfeiture process often have to pay for their own lawyers (if they can afford lawyers, what with their assets being seized) and face a complex bureaucratic process stacked against them. This was sold as a way to fight drug cartels, but over the past several decades it has become clear that cops are abusing the process to pad their budgets and payrolls. Instead of drug kingpins, the targets are frequently poorer people, often minorities or immigrants, who lacked the financial resources to fight back when police took their property. Law enforcement agencies have raked in more than $35 billion in this way over the last two decades.

Several states have tried to curtail abuses by imposing their own restrictions on forfeitures, but the federal Department of Justice's programs can be used to bypass state-level restraints. The Justice Department's Equitable Sharing program allows local law enforcement agencies to team up with the FBI or Drug Enforcement Administration to do a raid, then launder the assets they seize through the feds and keep much of it.

The FAIR Act would eliminate such "equitable" sharing, forcing law enforcement agencies to comply with state-level restrictions on forfeiture. It also increases the evidentiary threshold for forfeiture, requiring "clear and convincing evidence" that the property to be seized is connected to a crime, compared to the current, much looser standard or a "preponderance of the evidence." It's still not the same "beyond a reasonable doubt" threshold to get a conviction, but it's nevertheless an improvement.

The bill would also make sure that people subjected to federal forfeitures would receive appointed counsel if they need it. And it would reduce the profit motive to engage in forfeiture by directing the money seized in this way to the Treasury's General Fund, to be distributed by Congress rather than be sent directly to law enforcement agencies.

"The federal government has made it far too easy for government agencies to take and profit from the property of those who have not been convicted of a crime," Paul said in a prepared statement. "The FAIR Act will uphold the Fifth Amendment and ensure government agencies no longer profit from taking American citizens' property without due process. It will guard against abuse while maintaining the ability of courts to order the surrender of proceeds of crime."

Paul attempted to get this bill passed back in 2014, but it languished at the Senate Judiciary Committee. Rep. Tim Walberg (R–Mich.) has sponsored the House version, which has attracted co-sponsors from both major parties, but it has also been stuck in committee since May 2019.

This time Paul says he'll be attempting to attach the FAIR Act as an amendment to any police reform bill the Senate might consider. Unfortunately, it's not clear that the Senate will actually be considering any of them. Senate Democrats refused to support a Republican-sponsored bill organized by Sen. Tim Scott (R–S.C.) because it didn't go far enough for them. Meanwhile, the bill Democrats pushed through the House last night included a provision that would strip officers of qualified immunity, an idea that Senate Republicans don't want to consider.

So ultimately there may not be anything for Paul to actually attach the FAIR Act to. We'll have to see.

NEXT: Here We Go Again: Trump Wants New Tariffs on Canadian Aluminum

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  1. Here’s a wild and crazy idea; just submit the damn bill, and force the alleged representatives of the people to sign their names to a yes or a no.
    Madness, right?

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    2. Pure insanity. Make a legislator take a position? Are you nuts???

    3. The whole point of casting law-changing libertarian spoiler votes is to cause entrenched Kleptocracy politicians to repeal bad laws. Randal is doing the right thing. His Republican dad also did the right thing, and kept getting re-elected despite barrages of hateful political ads bought by the other entrenched party. Voting libertarian changes the laws. Handing money to PACs and lobbyists only makes you poorer.

  2. At least somebody is trying. I commend Senator Paul for bringing this up.

    And it was a damned shame that the JUSTICE Act by Senator Scott failed to pass.

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  3. It seems to me, that, between the lack of any support for ending qualified immunity and asset forfeiture, and splintered action on policing reforms, folks are just going to continue to be treated like “less-equal” animals. When will those who vote, every election, for either dems or repubs, wake up? (an obviously rhetorical question)

    1. For the same reason we haven’t had comprehensive immigration reform, we likely won’t see action on this topic either, since both parties would rather continue to use these things as wedge issues to vilify the other side of the aisle.

      1. since both parties would rather continue to use these things as wedge issues to vilify the other side of the aisle.

        Yes, and that reflects that Americans are split on the issue. Once a clear majority arrives, it ceases being useful as a wedge issue. That’s the way government is generally supposed to work: make decisions only on issues where there is widespread agreement.

    2. When will people wake up? When they stop giving credence to this BAR Association scam that our rights are in any way “civil” (created under the 14th amendment) and that these people have any authority over us at all.
      My inalienable rights, endowed on me not by man or any legislation written by man, are NOT “civil” and are not abrogated by any statutory process or unconstitutional jurisdiction fabricated by the BAR Association disease plaguing this country.
      Any public servant believes he/she can deny me due process of law and deprive me of my rights to seize my property without jurisdiction, I have a whole magazine of copper jacketed lead core, high velocity objections and a legal precedent to defend my liberty & property. The public servant acts outside his/her authority, their life is forfeit if need be. It’s not my problem.

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    4. Search “The Case for Voting Libertarian”. The exact same mechanism was used to make bad laws (before soviet and nazi socialism showed their true colors). Voting the straight LP ticket sends an unmistakable message that DEFEATS the worst politicians and sets the remainder an example for improvement.

  4. “Equitable Sharing”

    Antifa & BLM: maybe the police have some good aspects after all!

  5. expectations of Ruling Class giving *anything* back now are ludicrous.

  6. I applaud this effort and hope It passes this time. The Civil Forfeiture laws essentially criminalize cash and punish people for looking like a criminal – at least to the police arresting them and their stuff. Anything seized should be held pending the disposition of the case. If charges are dropped, they are acquitted or their felony charges reduced to misdemeanors, they should get all their stuff back – no questions asked.

  7. But…but… but if cops can’t steal your stuff in the name of civil asset forfeiture, then how will they pay for their third vacation home in the Bahamas?

    1. Well they can’t take bribes, gotta feed the kitty somehow.

    2. They lose their vacation homes in the liquidity crises caused by asset forfeiture looting in a fractional reserve banking system. You also lose your IRA investment. This is the thanks people get for being stampeded into voting for the lesser of two looters.

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  9. Title 18 USC Section 242…
    Given that the entire concept of “civil law” is by definition Color of Law, every act claiming a civil law basis is unconstitutional, and every actor is exceeding their jurisdiction & acting outside their authority, thereby nullifying all authority and all immunity. The primary remedy is to keep this disease we call the BAR Association at arms length, or better yet, in a cage, and insure that the tort claim is strictly in a constitutional, common law jurisdiction at all times.
    Start putting these douchebags in prison and seizing everything they own in the tort suit and the whole house of cards will crumble under it’s own weight.
    Sign up with the National Liberty Alliance and start indicting these corrupt kangaroo court judges.

  10. on reflection, has the mob in seattle engaged in civil forfeiture? i seems that the cops and takers are oddly one and the same this week. jargon it up and name it whatever you want, its common theft. democracy is mob rule…which, it turns out, people are perfectly fine with…as long it’s their mob.

  11. Rand Paul is one of the few thinking men in government

    1. And he thinks mostly of himself… but that is true for every politician.

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