A new Competitive Enterprise Institute report calls attention to a government injustice impacting too many Americans: civil asset forfeiture. The report offers advice to citizens on how to reduce risk of property seizure by law enforcement officials, such as during traffic stops, and explains how government succeeds in seizing and keeping personal property even without a criminal conviction.
“We live in a country where law enforcement officers regularly take property from civilians stemming from unproven police allegations of criminal conduct, with little chance of ever having the property returned,” explained report author Dan Greenberg, attorney and former state legislator. “The U.S. Constitution is supposed to protect the property of its citizens, but civil asset forfeiture does the opposite.”
The report delves into the major barriers people face in trying to get their cash, vehicle, or other property returned after it’s been seized by the government. While evidence suggests the median cash forfeiture in most states is less than a thousand dollars, in some states a few hundred dollars, property owners bear the cost of legal representation – which typically exceeds the value of the property. Because of that, people give up.
Another problem is that police departments benefit financially from seizing personal property, the report explains, so they have incentive to do it and lobby lawmakers in states and in Congress to keep the status quo.
Absent reform from lawmakers, there are steps that citizens can and should take to reduce their risks when interacting with police, the report explains. “This paper is written for those law-abiding civilians who wish to exercise their rights under the law to protect their ownership of their rightfully acquired and rightfully possessed property from the wrongful exercise of government officials’ seizure and forfeiture powers,” said Greenberg.
The report walks through scenarios on how to get through a routine police stop in a calm, responsive, legal way that reduces law enforcement ire or added scrutiny.