Pretrial

Civil Asset Forfeiture

Overview

Civil asset forfeiture laws allow state agencies to seize property from individuals if they suspect it was used in the commission of a crime.

As opposed to criminal forfeiture, civil forfeiture allows for property to be forfeited whether or not the individual was actually convicted of a crime. In criminal cases, the burden of proof is on the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone committed a crime. Civil asset forfeiture allows for a person’s property to be taken based on suspicion, and the burden of proof is on the individual to prove their innocence. Forfeiture proceeds are often redirected to seizing agencies, creating an economic incentive for agencies to pursue forfeitures instead of solving crimes.

Civil asset forfeiture policies can distort policing priorities and undermine public trust in law enforcement. A better forfeiture regime would be based on criminal forfeiture, where a criminal conviction is required to forfeit an individual’s property. The six types of civil asset forfeiture reforms scored here are described on the pages below.

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