Controversial yet recurring: civil asset forfeiture seizures

A Washington Post article from earlier this month spotlighted a recent change in criminal law in one state that in turn highlights trending activity elsewhere across the country.

Not Texas, though.

The Post piece noted a recently enacted Wisconsin law concerning so-called “civil asset forfeiture.” The publication terms that a “controversial [yet] common legal maneuver” allowing for state and federal authorities’ confiscation of private property from individuals and businesses.

Asset forfeiture comes with this catch in many states: Law enforcers can seize assets they claim are linked with crime (money laundering, drug trafficking and other cartel-related activities are often cited), and they can keep it even absent a subsequent criminal conviction. That is not the case in Wisconsin and 14 other states.

That rankles many Americans, who view civil asset forfeiture with true alarm. Findings from one poll indicate that more than eight of every 10 respondents find fault with the practice.

Texas criminal law officials clearly lack a reformist attitude regarding asset forfeiture. The nonprofit group Institute for Justice gives the state a failing grade, highlighting authorities’ widespread use of the practice and substantial inflows to police agencies that result from it. Prosecutors have a comparatively low standard of proof when effecting seizures and can often retain assets taken even when a suspect is never convicted of a crime.

Reportedly, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has hauled in more than $3 billion in forfeited cash nationally over the past decade from individuals who were ultimately never charged with a crime.