DOJ Reinstates Civil Asset Seizure Policy: What You Need to Know

By George Khoury, Esq. on July 20, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Department of Justice just reinstated their policy to assist local law enforcement in civil asset seizures. What does this mean? Well, it means that law enforcement will now have more incentive to just take your stuff, even your home and cold hard cash, if they suspect any of it was purchased with illegally-earned money.

Civil asset forfeiture is real, and incredibly frightening. If police suspect your property is involved in a crime, or is the proceeds of a crime, then law enforcement can seize it. What makes this so controversial is that your property can be taken without even criminal charges being filed. The property owner is forced to go through an administrative process, and potentially even a court filing, in order to get their property returned. Fortunately, the Supreme Court recently limited the government's authority to seize assets, but their ruling may not provide much relief at all.

What the DOJ Policy Means in Real Life

Because many states have civil asset forfeiture statutes of their own, one might not expect there to be any real change in the level of enforcement after the new policy shift. However, the DOJ policy rewards local law enforcement by returning a percentage of all proceeds seized to the local department, rather than distributing it to the charitable causes that it would otherwise go to under most states' laws. The federal policy incentivizes local officers to pursue civil asset forfeitures whenever possible in order to generate revenue for the department.

How to Avoid Civil Asset Forfeiture

Sadly, avoiding victimization under a civil asset forfeiture statute might not be possible. If an officer wants to target you for a specific reason, your only option may be to fight it out in court. The ability for an officer to seize property under these statutes is generally rather liberal, meaning that if there's probable cause, they'll be able to justify it. So if you fall victim to a civil asset forfeiture, make sure you have whatever is forfeited well documented.

To add to your growing concern, just having a large quantity of cash, on its own, can be considered by police as evidence of criminal activity. Large sums of cash are usually associated with drugs crimes, and are often seized without arrest. The philosophy behind this is to deprive criminals of their property by taking it first, then relying on the fantastical notion that a criminal won't try to get their property back through the legal system. Fortunately, in most states, if you are able to get your cash back, you're entitled to interest.

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