Armed with Knowledge
While laws differ across the country, most states allow law enforcement to seize an individual’s assets or property on the suspicion they have been involved in criminal activity. Even if a person is found to be innocent, some jurisdictions allow the government to keep their property.
According to the Institute for Justice, a civil liberties law firm, the Department of Justice’s Assets Forfeiture Fund generated $93.7 million in revenue in 1986. By 2014, the annual figure had reached $4.5 billion — a 4,667 percent increase. The practice surged for years under the Obama administration.
Last year, Ohio passed a law that prohibits taking assets valued at less than $15,000 without a criminal conviction. Other states also passed differing degrees of reform, including New Hampshire, Florida, Montana, Nebraska, Minnesota, Maryland and New Mexico.
Largely an uncontroversial issue for decades, the government’s war on drugs in the 1980s led to its rapid expansion, but media coverage of abuses has led to a public blowback.
A 2015 report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), found that of those Philadelphia residents who had their assets taken, nearly one-third were never convicted of a crime and that almost 60 percent of cash seizures were for amounts less than $250.
“Civil asset forfeiture reform is an area where you cannot ignore the public demand,” said Kanya Bennett, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union.