Bipartisan bill in Congress would put a leash on civil asset forfeiture

Cops steal more using this practice than burglars do.

Civil asset forfeiture (CAF) is a practice so bad that every sitting politician should be unilaterally opposed to it. And they would be, were it not for the very active, taxpayer-funded lobbying of police unions across this country.

For those merrily not in the know about this heinous practice, a quick refresher: Under CAF laws, police can take your property (cash, cars, even your home) without so much as ever-charging you of a crime—much less getting a conviction against you. And you might be thinking, “that sounds bad, but you probably have to do something pretty bad to be affected by it.” No sweeties. Not even close.

It’s actually a practice so widespread that it’s baffling it flies under the radar for most Americans. Or perhaps it’s not all that baffling as the mainstream media mostly just runs water for police departments too. But each and every year, cops steal more from Americans under CAF than burglars do.

And to get that money or property back, you have to be able to afford an attorney to go after the government for you (not a cheap process, by a long shot) and essentially prove your innocence—often for a ‘crime’ you weren’t even charged with in the first place!

Many activists have been working to overturn these laws for some time, but it is difficult to make headway due to the aforementioned lobbying by police departments who pad their budgets with these seizures. To hear them tell it, they must be able to steal from people or they won’t be able to stop drug crimes. (You’ll note the War on Drugs has been used as an excuse for the vast majority of the erosion of our civil liberties that has occurred over the past 50 years).

Asset forfeiture should only be legal after a person has been actually convicted of a crime, and it should be used to make restitution to victims and their families, not to fund police departments which naturally produces perverse incentives that lead to shoddy police work, wrongful convictions, and abuse.

Recently, a bipartisan bill was introduced in Congress that would address some of these issues (though I’d argue CAF should be banned altogether). The Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act (FAIR Act) is sponsored by Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Tim Walberg (R-MI). According to their press release on the bill it “raises the level of proof necessary for the federal government to seize property, reforms the IRS structuring statute to protect innocent small business owners, and increases transparency and congressional oversight.”

“The lawless seizure and ‘forfeiture’ of people’s private property by police officers is becoming standard operating procedure in many parts of the country,” said Rep. Raskin. “We want to restore the presumption of innocence, fair judicial process, and the opportunity to be heard. I’m proud to introduce this important bipartisan legislation with my friend Rep. Walberg to rein in civil asset forfeiture and restore due process rights.”

“It’s been far too easy for the government to seize a private citizen’s property, in some cases even without criminal charges being brought,” said Rep. Walberg. “The FAIR Act brings important reforms to limit government overreach and restores constitutional rights. Across the political spectrum, the FAIR Act has garnered support and I look forward to my continued work with Congressman Raskin as we fight to get this critical legislation signed into law.”

Walberg and Raskin are joined on the bill by Representatives Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Tom McClintock (R-CA), and Joe Neguse (D-CO).

While the bill would only address the federal CAF program (states need to take their own actions), this would be an excellent first step that would at the very least get some oversight and accountability on the matter. Such leadership from DC would also likely be encouraging to state lawmakers who must go up against their friends in police to pass reforms.

Civil asset forfeiture is one of the most immoral, unconstitutional, and disgusting practices in our country. Every little bit helps, but it’s time for us to blow this thing up altogether.

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Hannah Cox
Hannah Cox
Hannah Cox is a libertarian-conservative writer and co-founder of BASEDPolitics. She's also the host of the BASEDPolitics podcast and an experienced political activist.