Congress is considering legislation that would end illegal confiscation of property from people who have not been convicted of a crime, according to a FOX News report.
The proposed bipartisan bill would overhaul asset forfeiture laws, restoring Americans’ protection from private property seizures without warrants, said the article.
“The lawless seizure and ‘forfeiture’ of people’s private property by police officers is becoming standard operating procedure in many parts of the country,” said Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin.
Billions of dollars of seizures by the federal government over decades could end. Currently if an owner fails to file a claim fast enough for their possessions to be returned, agencies keep the property, according FOX News.
The Department of Justice says the goal of its asset forfeiture policy is to deter criminal activity, depriving criminals of property used in — or gained through — wrongful ventures. The agency claims asset forfeiture aids law enforcement in defunding organized crime.
The Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act, also known as the FAIR Act, would restore constitutional rights with reforms and limit government overreach.
The FAIR Act would disallow law enforcement agencies from keeping seized property by depositing assets to the Treasury’s general fund. Further, agencies would have to appear before a judge with a valid reason for a seizure, FOX News reported.
Administrative forfeitures are the most common tactic federal agencies use for seizures. The tactic allows them to operate without judicial authorization, the story said.
Los Angeles resident Linda Martin lost her life savings in 2021 when the FBI raided hundreds of safe deposit boxes at U.S. Private Vaults, seizing $86 million in cash. Martin has yet to determine where her money is and she has filed a civil suit against the FBI.
Between 2000 and 2019, the Department of Justice’s seizure cases were 78% administrative, according to a 2020 report by the Institute for Justice. Treasury Department seizure cases were 96% administrative.
Treasury Department and DOJ forfeiture revenues have exceeded $50 billion since 2000, according to the Institute for Justice report.
The FAIR Act would put the burden on the federal government to provide evidence linking seized property to illegal activity and guarantee people who have had their assets seized have the right to legal representation.
“Seizing property and handing it over to the government without proof of wrongdoing is fundamentally un-American,” Democratic Rep. Tony Cardenas said. “In the U.S. we are innocent until proven guilty, and the government may not seize our property without just cause.”