Yesterday, December 17, 2020, the only Libertarian Party member of Congress, Rep. Justin Amash introduced the Civil Asset Forfeiture Elimination Act to repeal civil asset forfeiture nationwide under the 14th Amendment. Federal, state, and local law enforcement use civil asset forfeiture to take billions of dollars in cash and property from private citizens each year without convicting the owners of any crime. Amash is the U.S. House Rep from Michigan’s Third District.
Instead, the government brings a civil action against the property itself, alleging that the property is “guilty” of being connected to criminal activity. This allows the government to take property without needing to charge the owner with a crime, prove their guilt, or otherwise afford them all the rights of a criminal defendant.
Often, the government gains ownership of such property automatically unless the owner files a claim for it within a short time. And when an innocent owner files a claim, many jurisdictions put the burden of proof on the owner to prove their innocence, rather than requiring the government to prove their guilt.
By failing to protect property owners’ constitutionally secured rights, civil forfeiture often leads to forfeitures of property belonging to innocent people. Most times, the property owner is not even accused of being involved in a crime; it suffices that someone else who is alleged to have committed a crime used their property. Civil asset forfeiture is incompatible with due process, but the courts have failed to recognize that fact. The Civil Asset Forfeiture Elimination Act cures this historical error and restores Americans’ rights by eliminating civil asset forfeiture at the state and federal level.
“Civil asset forfeiture is a due process violation, and it always has been,” said Amash. “Its history is riddled with injustices not because it’s a valid practice that gets misused, but because its central premise—denying people their procedural rights—is inherently flawed. By ending it, my bill helps fulfill Congress’s obligation to stop rights violations at both the state and federal level, and it ends a practice that contributes to the frayed relationship between law enforcement and the public.”
Not all freedom-lovers agree with Amash’s approach. The Tenth Amendment Center went to Twitter sending Amash this message, “While we understand and agree with the intention here – the absolute worst solution involves legislation that would put the ending of state civil forfeiture in the hands of the largest empire in the history of the world. Ending equitable sharing? Excellent. As all the founders agreed – federalist and anti-federalist – the great threat to liberty is from “consolidation” – and when libertarians look to centralized power to advance liberty, they’re actually forging the chains to bind them in the future.”