If you have had your car, home, or other property seized by the government even though you were never charged or convicted of a crime, then you have been victimized by civil forfeiture laws. The Institute for Justice defines civil forfeiture as “the government power to take property suspected of involvement in a crime” even if the owner was not charged with a crime. Through civil forfeiture, the government (or any agency that seized the property) sells such property and keeps as much as 80% of the proceeds for itself. This practice is also known as equitable sharing. According to Forbes’ article regarding civil forfeiture, “without warrants and despite a lack of criminal charges, law enforcement nationwide has taken in $2.5 billion from 61,998 cash seizures under equitable sharing” and “local and state authorities kept $1.7 billion for their own uses.”
How is this act even possible? State law enforcement can team up with federal law enforcement, bypassing all state laws relating to civil forfeiture, and easily scaling through the federal laws that are less strict. According to Forbes, one of the most common ways a seizure can start is by a police officer pulling a driver over for a minor traffic violation. If a police officer assesses the driver as suspicious, he can search the car for drugs with a K-9 dog, and if the dog seems to find something, the officer then has probable cause to seize the car. From that point, the owner is unlikely to have his property returned.
In 2014, the state of Minnesota put the United States’ foot in the door of equitable sharing reform by passing a law that now requires the government to convict a person of a crime in order to seize property. This Minnesota reform law hopefully will stop law enforcement from abusing their power to seize property for their own gains and make its way over to the rest of the United States. In Illinois, civilians are “protected” from civil forfeiture by the Drug Asset Forfeiture Act, which allows law enforcement to seize property under the guise of probable cause, which, as we saw from Forbes’ article, leaves the average person unprotected. Once property has been seized, the owner must file a claim and prove in court that he was not involved in any illegal activity. As Illinois Policy’s article remarks, this process “is a bizarre reversal of what we expect under the law” because we are supposed to be “considered innocent until proven guilty – not forced to go into court to justify why we should be allowed to keep our property.”
There is hope, however – The Washington Post just released an article about Attorney General Eric Holder and his actions to put a stop to this police thievery (click here to read). His new policy does not allow law enforcement to use federal laws to unfairly seize cash. It only allows the police to seizure property that causes a genuine public safety concern, such as “illegal firearms, ammunitions, explosives and property associated with child pornography,” among others. Holder’s policy is the first real step forward towards ending unfair civil forfeiture, but it certainly is not perfect. It will take some time before civil forfeiture returns to what it originally was supposed to do – help stop drug trafficking.
If you have had your property wrongfully seized by the police, call Attorney Edward Johnson for help today. If the police have seized your cash, our team can retrieve it for you WITHOUT charging you for attorney fees. No cash? No problem! We will get you your money back, and then we will ask for a percentage of the seized cash. Call us today at 708.606.4386.