Why Civil Forfeiture is an Essential Tool

Legislation has been introduced in Congress that would severely curtail the Government’s ability to use civil forfeiture as a law enforcement tool by raising the burden of proof and imposing procedural roadblocks to filing civil forfeiture cases.  The legislation is motivated by the erroneous perception that civil forfeiture is used, almost exclusively, by state and local police agencies to seize assets from citizens without charging them with any crime.

This document belies that misconception, collecting 88 civil forfeiture cases filed since 2013 that have nothing to do with currency seizures by police agencies, but relate instead to the kinds of cases typically filed in federal court involving international money laundering, terrorist financing, fraud committed by fugitives against US citizens, corruption by foreign dictators, the theft of intellectual property, the protection of endangered species and cultural property, and other matters where civil forfeiture is the only available means of enforcing the law and recovering the property.

The list suggests that “reform” legislation that is intended to deal with local police procedure, but which extends across the board to all civil forfeiture cases, would have an unintended adverse impact on an important law enforcement tool unless narrowed to address the problem it was intended to address.

Civil Forfeiture Examples