An Overview of Recent State-Level Forfeiture Reforms

Civil asset forfeiture laws allow for the seizure of property suspected of having been involved in, or derived from, criminal activity. In most states and at the federal level, no criminal charges or convictions are necessary because the resulting civil proceeding targets the property, not its owner. Civil forfeiture laws grant individuals challenging forfeiture cases considerably fewer legal protections than they would enjoy if they were defendants in criminal cases, and allow the law enforcement agencies that execute the seizures to retain the proceeds of successful forfeitures, creating a significant incentive to seize property. For decades, states have expanded the scope and reach of civil forfeiture, but within the past few years—driven by a growing number of accounts of abusive forfeitures and a recognition of the power of the forfeiture funding mechanism to distort the priorities of law enforcement organizations—many have reevaluated their civil forfeiture laws, scaling back or totally abolishing the tool. The message is clear: outside the law enforcement community, there is little support for the forfeiture status quo.

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