Forfeiting our Rights: The Urgent Need for Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform
Washington, D.C. (December 6, 2021)—On December 8, 2021, at 10:00 a.m. ET, Rep. Jamie Raskin, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, will hold a hearing to examine the need to reform the nation’s civil asset forfeiture laws and to prevent state, local, and federal law enforcement from abusing the civil rights and civil liberties of Americans.
Civil asset forfeiture is a procedure used by law enforcement officials to seize assets from individuals upon the belief that the assets are connected to criminal activity. The government does not need to convict or even charge individuals before seizing their assets. In some states, law enforcement agencies are allowed to keep 100 percent of the seized assets proceeds, creating a perverse incentive for agencies to abuse the civil rights of Americans in exchange for profit.
Studies show that low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately affected by civil asset forfeiture programs. One study in South Carolina found that between 2014 and 2016, 65 percent of individuals targeted for forfeiture were Black men, despite being only 13 percent of the state’s population. Challenging civil asset forfeiture is a costly and complex endeavor, making it more difficult for low-income individuals to recoup their seized assets.
Since 2014, 36 states and the District of Columbia have introduced reforms to rein in the abuse of civil asset forfeiture programs. However, these efforts have been hindered by the federal Equitable Sharing Program which creates a giant loophole that allows state and local governments, including those that have abolished civil forfeiture, to transfer seized assets to the federal government and recoup a large portion of the cash proceeds.
Ms. Aamra Ahmad
Senior Policy Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union
Mr. Daniel Alban
Senior Attorney and Co-Director, National Initiative to End Forfeiture Abuse, Institute for Justice
Ms. Malinda Harris
Victim of Civil Asset Forfeiture
Mr. Louis F. Rulli
Practice Professor of Law, Director of Civil Practice Clinic & Legislative Clinic, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School