Civil Forfeiture

Civil Forfeiture

IJ client Russ Caswell and his family have owned and operated the Motel Caswell in Tewksbury, Mass., for two generations. The Caswells nearly had their property taken from them by local and federal law enforcement officials through a process known as “civil forfeiture."

Civil forfeiture—where the government can take and sell your property without ever charging you with a crime, let alone convicting you of one—is one of the greatest threats to property rights in the nation. To make matters worse, such forfeitures often fund law enforcement officials’ budgets, giving them a direct financial incentive to abuse this power. Unfortunately, law enforcement agencies frequently fail to disclose what they seize or how they use forfeiture proceeds. This lack of accountability to state legislators and the public only makes a bad problem worse.

The Institute for Justice is litigating or has litigated these cases:

CaliforniaUnited States v. 2601 West Ball Road, Anaheim, Calif.

GeorgiaVan Meter v. Turner

MassachusettsUnited States v. 434 Main Street, Tewksbury, Mass.

Michigan - Dehko et al. v. Holder (and related cases, United States v. $35,651.11 and United States v. $33,244.86)

New JerseyState of New Jersey v. One 1990 Ford Thunderbird

Texas - State of Texas v. One 2004 Chevrolet Silverado


Amicus Briefs

U.S. Supreme Court - Kaley v. United States

U.S. Supreme Court - Florida v. Harris

U.S. Supreme Court - Alvarez v. Smith

Minnesota Supreme Court - Garcia-Mendoza v. 2003 Chevy Tahoe


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Report: A Stacked Deck: How Minnesota's Civil Forfeiture Laws Put Citizens' Property at Risk (January 2013)

Report: Rotten Reporting in the Peach State: Civil Forfeiture in Georgia Leaves the Public in the Dark (January 2013)

Report: Arizona's Profit Incentive in Civil Forfeiture: Dangerous for law enforcement; Dangerous for Arizonans (December 2012)

Report: Inequitable Justice: How Federal "Equitable Sharing" Encourages Local Police and Prosecutors to Evade State Civil Forfeiture Law for Financial Gain (October 2011)
Report: Forfeiting Accountability: Georgia Law Enforcement's Hidden Civil Forfeiture Funds (March 2011)
Report: Forfeiting Justice: How Texas Police and Prosecutors Cash In On Seized Property (November 2010)
Report: Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture (March 2010)
Op-eds, News Articles and Links, Maps, Charts and Facts
Infographic: California Civil Forfeiture
Map: Limited Forfeiture Accountability States Where Little or No Forfeiture Data Is Available 
Article: Taken; The New Yorker (August 12, 2013)
Article: Federal Asset Seizures Rise, Netting Innocent With Guilty The Wall Street Journal (August 23, 2011)
Article: Despite law, schools get little of assets seized from crime suspects; The Indianapolis Star Online (August 17, 2010)

Article: End Policing for Profit; The Huffington Post (April 12, 2010)

Article: IJ Report Kicks Off New Campaign Against Civil Forfeiture Abuse; Liberty and Law (April 2010)
Article: Civil Asset Forfeiture; MotherJones (April 7, 2010)
Article: How the police grab your stuff; The Economist (April 1, 2010)
Model Law
Forfeiture Reporting Act- Model Legislation (PDF)

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