Have Civil Forfeiture made Banks Unsafe?

Civil asset forfeiture isn’t limited to bank accounts, nor is it limited to the IRS. Local and state law enforcement have their own forfeiture machinery, and often they collaborate with federal authorities, including the DEA, FBI and IRS. Cash, cars, boats, and houses are seized every year from many thousands of citizens, often without a formal accusation of wrongdoing.

The 80% rule. In cases requiring the cooperation of federal and local law enforcement, the "Equitable Sharing" program provided for in the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 allows local agencies to retain up to 80% of the proceeds from confiscations. And, according to a study done by a former Congressman and the Cato Institute, an estimated 80% of those who have their assets seized are never charged with a crime of any kind.

As comedian-with-a-cause John Oliver's expose on asset forfeiture points out, the money shaken from the pockets of innocent Americans translates into spending sprees for law enforcement agencies. Confessed one sheepishly honest officer, as captured on a police review board video, "We usually base it on something that would be nice to have that we can't get in the budget... It's kind of like pennies from heaven, that get you a toy that you need."

A new policy would stop the process of "adoption," in which state and local officials use federal law to easily seize assets without charging owners with a crime. Many were thrilled that Holder seemed to be effectively ending forfeiture abuses.But perhaps the celebration was premature. The Institute for Justice, a law firm which has led the fight against civil forfeiture, notes significant loopholes in the new policy. It still allows forfeiture through joint task forces and joint investigations.