Four House members on both sides of the aisle today are pushing forward legislation to reform the federal rules for civil asset forfeiture.
Civil asset forfeiture is the process by which law enforcement agencies and prosecutors are able to seize and keep property and assets from people based on the suspicion that it is connected with crime. The system is prone to abuse because police in a “civil” system do not have to prove that a suspect is guilty of a crime or even charge them with a crime. And because it’s a “civil” procedure instead of a criminal process, those who get caught up in it often are not guaranteed a lawyer to help them resist, and the government has a lower burden of proof to win its case.
There have been many efforts to reform asset forfeiture on the state level, but there’s a snag—the Department of Justice’s “equitable sharing” asset forfeiture program often gives local law enforcement agencies a loophole around tighter state-level regulations. So in many cases, state level reforms are not enough. There need to be changes to the federal rules as well.