In one of our recent blog posts, we discussed how several politicians in Congress were finally pushing for civil forfeiture reform. The practice of taking property associated with a suspected crime had blown out of control, with law enforcement agencies taking more and more property that was only tenuously related to a crime.
Now, a report by the Department of Justice sheds light on just how bad the practice has become.
Civil Asset Forfeiture
Civil asset forfeiture is a law enforcement technique that allows police to seize property – from cash to cars to drugs – that they suspect of being used in a past crime or will be used in one in the future. In theory, the goal is to better hamper large-scale crime rings by taking their assets.
In reality, though, civil asset forfeiture has turned into a way for local police departments to make money.
New Report Shows Abuse of Civil Forfeiture
A new report by the Department of Justice shows just how badly civil asset forfeiture has strayed from its purported goals. The report, which came out in March, looked into what little-reported data there was that dealt with the effectiveness of civil asset forfeiture, and found that, more often than not, assets were taken from people who never got charged with a crime.
Focusing on one agency – the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which conducts most of the cash forfeitures in the country – the report honed in on a judgmental sample of 100 cash seizures. Out of these 100 seizures, 85 happened at a transportation facility, like an airport or public transportation terminal, or at a traffic stop. Only 6 of these 85 cash seizures were the result of an ongoing investigation – 79 of them were made on a spur-of-the-moment judgment by DEA agents, and without any indication that a specific drug crime had actually taken place.
Perhaps even more shocking, the DEA could only verify that 44 out of the 100 cash seizures led to a new investigation, an arrest, or a prosecution, or advanced an ongoing investigation. The majority of the cash seizures in the study – 56 out of 100 – were done to innocent people who were never charged with a crime.
In fact, the report found that 81% of all DEA cash seizures – totaling $3.2 billion – were done through the administrative process, rather than the criminal justice system. This means that 4 out of every 5 dollars seized by the DEA was done without a trial or any judicial oversight, whatsoever.
Maine Criminal Defense Attorney William T. Bly
You can be the victim of civil asset forfeiture even if you haven't been convicted or even charged with a crime. It can leave you in dire straits and without much in the way of recourse unless you take legal action.
If you've been charged with a crime or are under investigation and have had assets seized by the police, call the Maine law office of criminal defense attorney William T. Bly at (207) 571-8146 or contact him online.