fbpx

The Federal Government

The Federal Government earns a D- for its civil forfeiture laws:

Standard of Proof

Low bar to forfeit: Prosecutors must prove by preponderance of the evidence that property is connected to a crime.

Innocent Owner Burden

Poor protections for the innocent: Third-party owners must prove their own innocence to recover seized property.

Financial Incentive

Large profit incentive: 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement.

The letter grade reflects the state’s forfeiture laws as of December 2020. When we become aware of relevant reforms, we are updating the standard of proof, innocent owner burden and financial incentive language above, but we are not updating the letter grade.

Recent Reforms

  • (2019) HR 3151: Limited forfeiture for currency “structuring” to cases where funds are from an illegal source or used to conceal illegal activity; allowed owners to challenge seizures of currency for alleged structuring at prompt post-seizure hearings. Introduced as Clyde-Hirsch-Sowers RESPECT (Restraining Excessive Seizure of Property through the Exploitation of Civil Asset Forfeiture Tools) Act and named for two IJ clients and victims of IRS structuring seizures; later passed as part of Taxpayer First Act.

Recommendations

  • End civil forfeiture
  • Direct all forfeiture proceeds to a non-law enforcement fund
  • Strengthen protections for innocent third-party owners
  • Abolish the equitable sharing program
  • Strengthen transparency and accountability requirements

Deposits to Federal Forfeiture Funds, 2000–2019

Between 2000 and 2019, the Department of Justice forfeited more than $30.8 billion and the Department of the Treasury forfeited nearly $15 billion, for a total of at least $45.7 billion in total forfeiture revenue.

At least $45.7 billion in forfeiture revenue
2000–2019

Year Assets Forfeiture Fund Deposits Treasury Forfeiture Fund Deposits Total
2000 $440,100,000 $170,997,000 $611,097,000
2001 $406,800,000 $92,873,000 $499,673,000
2002 $423,600,000 $147,878,000 $571,478,000
2003 $486,000,000 $194,854,000 $680,854,000
2004 $543,100,000 $271,565,000 $814,665,000
2005 $595,500,000 $258,636,000 $854,136,000
2006 $1,124,900,000 $214,651,000 $1,339,551,000
2007 $1,515,700,000 $252,192,000 $1,767,892,000
2008 $1,286,000,000 $464,762,000 $1,750,762,000
2009 $1,444,568,000 $516,736,000 $1,961,304,000
2010 $1,573,330,000 $959,767,000 $2,533,097,000
2011 $1,737,965,000 $817,154,000 $2,555,119,000
2012 $4,314,710,000 $397,002,000 $4,711,712,000
2013 $2,012,249,000 $1,612,361,000 $3,624,610,000
2014 $4,467,127,000 $736,531,000 $5,203,658,000
2015 $1,622,651,000 $4,595,733,000 $6,218,384,000
2016 $1,886,918,000 $773,314,000 $2,660,232,000
2017 $1,586,422,000 $458,606,000 $2,045,028,000
2018 $1,276,170,000 $1,188,465,000 $2,464,635,000
2019 $2,070,452,000 $802,066,000 $2,872,518,000
Totals $30,814,262,000 $14,926,143,000 $45,740,405,000

All revenue figures include both civil and criminal forfeitures. Revenues are not adjusted for inflation.

The Department of Justice's Forfeiture Transparency and Accountability Report Card

Tracking Seized Property

A-

Accounting for Forfeiture Fund Spending

C

Aggregate Forfeiture Reports

A

Accessibility of Forfeiture Records

A

Penalties for Failure to File a Report

F*

Financial Audits of Forfeiture Accounts

A

* Agencies must file even when they have nothing to report.

For full transparency and accountability grades, visit www.ij.org/TransparencyReportCards.

DOJ Forfeitures: Key Facts

Median Value

$ 12,090

From 2015 to 2019, half of DOJ’s currency forfeitures were worth less than $12,090. Federal policy does not typically permit cash seizures and forfeitures under $5,000 unless the person from whom the cash was seized is or was being criminally prosecuted.

Property Types

From 2000 to 2019, 23% of DOJ’s forfeitures were of currency; an additional 40% were of weapons and ammunition.

Civil vs. Criminal

From 2000 to 2019, at least 84% of DOJ’s forfeited properties were processed under civil, not criminal, forfeiture laws.

Expenditures

From 2015 to 2019, DOJ spent $7 billion from forfeiture funds, close to a third on third-party compensation and more than a fifth on equitable sharing payments.

The Treasury's Forfeiture Transparency and Accountability Report Card

Tracking Seized Property

C

Accounting for Forfeiture Fund Spending

C

Aggregate Forfeiture Reports

B

Accessibility of Forfeiture Records

A

Penalties for Failure to File a Report

F*

Financial Audits of Forfeiture Accounts

A

* Agencies must file even when they have nothing to report.

For full transparency and accountability grades, visit www.ij.org/TransparencyReportCards.

Treasury Forfeitures: Key Facts

Median Value

$7,320

From 2015 to 2016, half of Treasury’s currency forfeitures were worth less than $7,320. Federal policy does not typically permit cash seizures and forfeitures under $5,000 unless the person from whom the cash was seized is or was being criminally prosecuted.

Property Types

From 2000 to 2016, 64% of Treasury’s forfeitures were of conveyances, mostly vehicles, but 67% of proceeds were from currency.

Civil vs. Criminal

From 2000 to 2016, at least 98% of Treasury’s forfeited properties were processed under civil, not criminal, forfeiture laws. Nearly all of Treasury’s civil forfeiture cases were administrative.

Expenditures

UNKNOWN

Treasury does not report how forfeiture funds are spent.

Data Notes and Legal Sources

Data Notes

Revenue data are from DOJ’s Annual Financial Statements, available on its website. Data represent all forfeiture revenues deposited into DOJ’s Assets Forfeiture Fund and include proceeds shared with state and local law enforcement as part of the equitable sharing program. Expenditures are from DOJ’s annual reports to Congress, also available on the Department’s website. Third parties include innocent owners, lienholders, banks and victims. Other figures were calculated using DOJ’s Consolidated Asset Tracking System and are presented in calendar years.

Legal Sources

Standard of proof: Preponderance of the evidence.

18 U.S.C. § 983(c).

Innocent owner burden: Owner.

18 U.S.C. § 983(d).

Financial incentive: 100%.

18 U.S.C. § 981(e); see also United States v. Pescatore, 637 F.3d 128, 137 (2d Cir. 2011).

JOIN THE FIGHT!