The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2014 seeks to strengthen personal property rights under the Fifth Amendment and ensure due process of law by reforming civil asset forfeiture laws. Under current law, agencies like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Department of Justice (DoJ) may take property suspected to be in connection with a crime without charging the property owner of a crime.
Congressman Tim Walberg [R-MI7] introduced the bill “to restore the balance of power away from the government and back to protecting individual rights and due process.” The bill is supported by the group Americans for Forfeiture Reform.
The bill raises the burden of proof for determining a forfeiture from a “preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence,” requiring the government to have more concrete proof of the property’s connection to a crime. The bill also shifts the burden of proof for the “Innocent Owner Defence” from the owner of the property to the government.
The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2014 requires that the government notify all owners of forfeited property of the possibility of using a public defender to argue their case.
The bill expands the criteria to consider when weighing the proportionality of the amount of the forfeiture against the connected crime from from only the “gravity of the offense” to also include “ the extent of the nexus of the property to the offense, the range of sentences available for the offense giving rise to forfeiture, the fair market value of the property, and the hardship to the property owner and dependents.”
The bill expands the reporting requirements for the Department of Justice’s Assets Forfeiture Fund by requiring that in its reporting to Congress it differentiate deposits received by whether they resulted from civil or criminal forfeitures. The fund collected more than $2 billion from both sources in 2013.
The bill also requires the DoJ to assure that any equitable sharing with local or state agencies from forfeitures do not violate state laws or limitations. This would result in the DoJ not being able to share forfeitures with states that prohibit civil asset forfeiture and DoJ having to follow state guidelines for in usage of those funds.
The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jul 28, 2014.
Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2014 - Amends the federal criminal code to require the government to include in any notice required to be sent in a nonjudicial civil forfeiture proceeding under a civil forfeiture statute that the person receiving the notice may be able to obtain free or reduced rate legal representation.
Requires the government, in a suit or action brought under any civil forfeiture statute for the civil forfeiture of property, to prove that the property is subject to forfeiture by clear and convincing evidence (currently, by a preponderance of the evidence).
Provides that where a prima facie case is made for an innocent owner defense, the government has the burden of proving that the claimant knew or reasonably should have known that the property was involved in the illegal conduct giving rise to the forfeiture (currently, the claimant has the burden of proving that the claimant is an innocent owner). Places the burden on the government to show that the property owner should have had knowledge of the criminal activity by demonstrating that the property owner did not: (1) give timely notice to law enforcement of information that led the person to know the conduct giving rise to a forfeiture occurred; and (2) in a timely fashion, revoke or attempt to revoke permission for those engaging in such conduct to use the property or take reasonable actions in consultation with law enforcement to discourage or prevent the illegal use of the property.
Directs the court, in determining whether the forfeiture was constitutionally excessive, to consider such factors as the seriousness of the offense, the extent of the nexus of the property to the offense, the range of sentences available for the offense giving rise to forfeiture, the fair market value of the property, and the hardship to the property owner and dependents (currently, the court is required to compare the forfeiture to the gravity of the offense giving rise to the forfeiture).
Requires the Attorney General to: (1) specify, in the annual report on the Department of Justice Assets Forfeiture Fund, deposits from each type of forfeiture, identifying which funds were obtained from criminal forfeitures and which were obtained from civil forfeitures; and (2) assure that any equitable sharing between the Department of Justice (DOJ) and a local or state law enforcement agency was not initiated for the purpose of circumventing any state law that prohibits civil forfeiture or limits use or disposition of property obtained via civil forfeiture by state or local agencies.