End civil forfeiture

Civil forfeiture represents one of the most serious assaults on cash, vehicles, and other private property by government today. Prosecutors in most states do not have to charge you, let alone convict you, for you to lose your property. If you do not engage in complex civil litigation to protect your own property, you can lose it. Worse, most states allow police, sheriffs, and prosecutors to keep most of the forfeited property—even if you have done nothing wrong—to supplement their budgets.  This undermines the proper separation of powers between the executive branch and the legislature.  It is the role of state legislators to raise and appropriate all funds, not law enforcement.

Under Detroit’s civil forfeiture laws, innocence is not a defense, a fact that Melisa Ingram learned the hard way. When Melisa loaned her car to her then-boyfriend, she had no idea he would use her car to allegedly solicit a prostitute. Even though Melisa was never charged with a crime and any wrongdoing was done without her knowledge or consent, her car was seized by police and held for ransom. Unable to pay the high fees, storage and towing costs the city demanded, Melisa was forced to declare bankruptcy. Partnering with the Institute for Justice, Melisa is now spearheading a class-action lawsuit to shut down Detroit’s abusive forfeiture program and protect hundreds of other innocent owners.

Ending civil forfeiture and replacing it with criminal forfeiture will help restore the proper process to ensure that crime does not pay. IJ’s work also focuses on reducing the distortion in law enforcement’s priorities by addressing how forfeiture proceeds are distributed as part of a fair administration of justice.

In Policing for Profit:  The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture, IJ grades the civil forfeiture laws of each state.  We have extensive experience advocating for forfeiture reform in state legislatures and stand ready to show you areas for improvement in your state and craft responsive and needed reforms.

Our Model Criminal Forfeiture Process Act addresses both the concerns created by the current civil forfeiture process, and the concerns of police, sheriffs, and prosecutors. It replaces civil forfeiture with criminal forfeiture (which both New Mexico and Nebraska have done), enforces protections for property owners, and provides the flexibility to incorporate existing prosecutorial processes into the model’s framework.

Our Model Forfeiture Reporting Law allows state lawmakers to gather information about how law enforcement and prosecutors engage in seizures and forfeiture in their states, which provides informative data for future, broader reform.

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