Department of Justice Forfeiture Policy

In February 2015, Congress was prepared to look at sweeping changes to the federal government laws regarding civil forfeiture.

An analysis of the policy change would affect just a small piece of seizures. In response to the findings, a pair of lawyers with the Institute for Justice, Darpana Sheth, and Robert Johnson testified before Congress about more badly needed reforms.

Then-Attorney General Eric Holder decided the Department of Justice would bar federal authorities from adopting civil forfeitures from regional offices.

Adopted forfeitures” happen when local police request the DOJ to manage a case at the national level. The policy did not end the department’s civil forfeiture program, though. The analysis demonstrated these cases comprised just a tiny subset of the co-operative program.

Researchers looked at six years of DOJ data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. They discovered the controversial sharing program would proceed despite a change in policy.

Of the almost $7 billion in property and cash seized under the sharing program between 2008 and 2013, adoptions made up only a little over 8.5%.

Adoptions for evenhanded distribution just made up 10-percent of the total even as the DOJ confirmed as they announced the policy change: adoptive seizures made up just 3% of the seized properties aggregated value.

Despite affecting a tiny portion of forfeitures, the policy shift did not address the inadequate lawful standards in federal civil forfeiture law.

Another report, “Seize First, Question Later,” found the Internal Revenue Service appropriated millions of dollars from U.S. bank accounts without any indication of wrongdoing on the part of the account holders.

Between 2005 and 2012, the IRS grabbed over $240 million for SUSPECTED violations. Thirty-three percent of those proceedings resulted from nothing further than a list of cash deals under $10,000 — without any other unlawful activity even being alleged.

Eighty-percent of IRS similar forfeitures were civil, not criminal. Civil forfeitures mandate a lesser evidentiary test and can be conducted without a conviction. The account owners have even less rights in attempting to get their money returned.

At the state level, civil forfeiture varies by state.  Writing in The Wall Street Journal on March 16, 2014,, Zusha Elinson brought to light allegations of police in northern Nevada unlawfully taking tens of thousands of dollars from passing motorists. The scandal prompted an official review and bolstered criticisms of asset-forfeiture programs.