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Rand Paul Joins Forfeiture Reform Movement


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sen-rand-paul-joins-forfeiture-reform-movementHeritage Foundation:

On Thursday, forfeiture-reform advocates gained a new ally when Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., announced his “Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act” or “FAIR Act,” which takes direct aim at some of the most abuse-prone provisions of federal civil forfeiture law.


Federal civil forfeiture laws allow police to seize money and property if they suspect it is being used in or is the result of crime. In most states, the money is directed back to the law enforcement agency that seized it. Officers’ salaries sometimes depend on this money, and the result is a perverse incentive to seize property, especially cash, in often dubious circumstances.


State and local governments can try to curb this behavior by setting restrictions on agencies’ forfeiture hauls or heightening their evidentiary burdens in court. But in a practice called “equitable sharing,” law enforcement can hand over forfeitures to the federal government in exchange for 80 percent of the proceeds, which encourages circumvention of state law. In 2012 alone, the feds disbursed $657 million in equitable sharing payments.


To prevent this, Paul’s legislation would remove the authority of the Justice Department to make equitable sharing payments altogether. It also would require all seized funds be deposited in the General Fund of the Treasury, rather than returned as trophy payments to law enforcement. Finally, it requires the government to provide “clear and convincing evidence” the assets are subject to forfeiture before seizing them. This raises the evidentiary burden to one step below the “beyond a reasonable doubt standard” that applies in criminal courts.


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