Institute for Justice Issues Report Criticizing State Law Enforcement Overuse of Asset Forfeiture Laws

From a piece that ran yesterday in the National Law Journal:

A new report from the Institute for Justice asserts that police and prosecutors nationwide are abusing their forfeiture privileges by seizing property to pad their budgets, in many cases never even charging the property owners with a crime.

The 123-page report, issued on Tuesday by the Arlington, Va.-based libertarian public interest law firm, claims that civil asset forfeiture laws in the vast majority of states give law enforcement a financial incentive to pursue forfeitures for money, rather than for justice. That’s because law enforcement agencies are allowed to keep the boats, the cars or the cash, the report says, while property owners bear the burden of fighting to get their goods back and proving their property was not involved in anything illegal.

The NLJ article also includes a reaction from prosecutors:

Prosecutors, meanwhile, dispute the report’s conclusion, arguing that civil forfeitures receive plenty of judicial oversight.

“It’s not like cops are grabbing something in the middle of the night and not answering for it. In most states, [forfeitures] are completely approved by the court,” said James Reams, president-elect of the National District Attorneys Association.

While abuses may occur, “abuses that occur are certainly not endemic,” he argued. “The vast majority of [forfeiture] funds are being used exactly the way legislatures intended them to be used. And it’s all transparent.”

Joshua Marquis, district attorney in Clatsop County, Ore., agreed, saying the Institute for Justice report is “using a very broad brush.” Specifically, he disputed claims that law enforcement can outright seize property without offering any explanation to the court.

“I’m faced with this on a regular basis,” Marquis said. “In my experience, courts are pretty vigilant in saying there has to be some reasonable nexus. The state just can’t take the money. They have to show that there is a strong correlation between criminal activity and the money.”

Here’s a link to the report, Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture.

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