Santa Claus came a little earlier for those who have been urging for changes to federal civil asset forfeiture laws. The Department of Justice sent a letter to state and local law enforcement agencies notifying them that it would defer equitable sharing payments due to budget constraints. The step is temporary, as the Department of Justice wants to resume the program at a later time.
As FreedomWorks explained in From High Seas to Highway Robbery, federal civil asset forfeiture laws lack any significant protections for innocent property owners. State and local law enforcement agencies working in coordination with their federal counterparts, can seize property they believe to be connected to illicit activity and seek forfeiture of it under federal forfeiture law. Federal prosecutors have to meet a very low standard of evidence to subject property to forfeiture and the burden of proof in these proceedings falls on the property owner, not the government.
Though the Fifth Amendment guarantees Americans the right to due process, the individual from whom the property is seized does not have to be charged with a crime. A perverse profit motive exists, as state and local law enforcement can receive up to 80 percent of the proceeds of these forfeitures through the equitable sharing payments from the Department of Justice. In 2011, state and local law enforcement received $445 million in equitable sharing payments from the Department of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture Fund.
On December 21, the Department of Justice sent a letter to state and local…