Civil Asset Forfeiture

Through the practice of civil asset forfeiture, the government can seize the property of individuals who are never even charged with a crime, turning the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” on its head. Through both federal and state asset forfeiture practices, the owner of seized property must prove the innocence of their seized property through a long and expensive legal battle to prove in order to recover it. The federal government has seized more than $2.5 billion through 60,000 cash seizures since 2001, and over 80% of those individuals were never charged with a crime.
The Coalition and its partners are working on this issue in order to:
  • Protect people from governmental seizures of property and cash.
  • Enhance due process, strengthen property rights nationwide, and curb misaligned policy and economic incentives surrounding the use of civil asset forfeiture.
  • Limit government seizures of property to cases involving individuals convicted of a crime, or at a minimum connected with illegal conduct using a high burden of proof carried by the government.
  • Support legislative reforms that provide procedures for owners to get their property back promptly, have an adequate standard of proof to forfeit property, and require a prompt post-seizure hearing for all property types.

More Facts

From 2005 to 2012, the IRS seized more than $242 million for suspected structuring violations in more than 2,500 cases.

  • Federal law requires banks to report cash transactions of more than $10,000 to the IRS, and it is illegal to “structure” deposits or withdrawals to avoid those reporting requirements by, for example, depositing or withdrawing $9,000 at a time. Federal reporting requirements are intended to detect and deter financial crimes, such as money laundering and fraud. But it is not illegal to make deposits or withdrawals of less than $10,000 if there is a legitimate purpose for doing so.

From FY2013 to FY2014, amounts deposited into the Department of Justice’s Assets Forfeiture Fund (AFF) by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies from forfeited assets increased from $2 billion to $4.5 billion, or an increase of 65 percent.

IRS seizures and forfeitures for suspected structuring have grown substantially. In 2012, the IRS made more than five times as many structuring-related seizures as it did in 2005, and funds seized jumped 96 percent. Forfeitures increased three-fold from 2006 to 2013, yielding a 166 percent increase in revenue.

When the IRS seizes money for suspected structuring, law enforcement agents can seize under criminal forfeiture statutes, which require criminal charges and a conviction for a forfeiture, or civil forfeiture statutes, which require neither. From 2005 to 2012, 86 percent of IRS seizures for suspected structuring were civil actions.