Department of Justice Awards $6 Billion in Contracts to Private Companies to Assist in Civil Asset Forfeitures
A nonprofit law firm, the Institute for Justice’s National Initiative to End Forfeiture, recently raised the alarm after the Department of Justice announced earlier this year over $6 billion in contracts to private companies to assist the federal government investigate and seize assets from individuals and companies suspected of criminal activity. The government is able to seize assets or money they believe can be linked to criminal activity through forfeiture proceedings, and it puts the onus on the individual or company to prove that said assets were legally acquired and held, even if the government does not charge anyone with a crime. Between 2000 and 2019 the federal government alone generated more than $45.7 billion in revenue, which does not account for state and local agencies who also possess the power to invoke forfeiture proceedings on property seized. Although the F.B.I. cites civil asset forfeiture as a useful tool for “disrupting and dismantling criminal and terrorist organizations and punishing criminals,” many others see the process as perverse and entangling innocent individuals and their assets, particularly because the seizing agency often retains seized proceeds for themselves.
Legislation to Reform Process Reintroduced in Congress
In March, two congressmen reintroduced the “FAIR Act” which would curtail some of the perceived abuses by the federal government, such as allowing seized assets to go to a general fund instead of allowing the seizing agency to retain a large amount of the seized assets or money. The bill would also raise the burden that federal agencies must show in order to retain seized property, thereby allowing more innocent owners to recover their property if subject to forfeiture. Although forfeiture proceedings can accompany a criminal indictment, forfeiture proceedings are generally civil in nature, which means that individuals do not have the right to an appointed attorney and usually have to, and should, hire an attorney to protect their rights. Any individual who has some of their property seized by federal, state, or local law enforcement should contact an experienced forfeiture lawyer.