Senate approves Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill

From the Drug Policy Foundation*

On March 27 the full Senate approved the revised version of H.R.1658 aimed at reforming civil asset forfeiture practices. The voice vote in the Senate sends the bill to the House where it has the backing of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Il.). The vote came on the heels of the Senate Judiciary Committee's March 23 approval of a compromise between several competing bills addressing civil asset forfeiture.

The Senate-approved bill would institute the following reforms:

  • The bill would shift the burden of proof in forfeiture cases; the government would have to make its case by a preponderance of the evidence. Under current law the burden of proof is placed on the property owner.
  • The bill would eliminate a current law that requires a person whose property has been confiscated to pay, in cash, 10 percent of the value of the confiscated property before he or she can file suit against the government and proceed in the legal process to reclaim their property.
  • The bill enables a judge to release property to the owner if continued government possession poses a substantial hardship and extends the time a property owner has to challenge a seizure in court.
  • The bill also would establish uniform "innocent owner" provisions to protect the property of those who had no knowledge of illegal activity, or who made a good faith effort to discontinue use.
  • The bill would require the government to repay the property owner's "reasonable" attorney fees should he or she prevail in the case. The bill would allow a judge to impose a fine if a claimant filed a frivolous action.

The Drug Policy Foundation has been consistently advocating for the reform of civil asset forfeiture laws. The practice gives law enforcement the power to seize property allegedly used in a drug crime even if the owner of the property is never charged with a crime. Civil asset forfeiture warps policing and encourages corruption when police departments are able to keep what they seize. Virtually all state and federal law enforcement agencies use forfeiture extensively. The Justice Department alone took in $450 million from such seizures last year.

The Drug Policy Foundation encourages you to contact your representatives in the House and tell them to support the new version of H.R.1658.

2000 National Drug Control Strategy Unveiled

On March 23 before the House Appropriations Committee, the Office of National Drug Control Policy unveiled its National Drug Control Strategy, 2000. The annual report outlined a strategy that is essentially no different from the criminal justice and interdiction-based policies of previous years.

In spite of claims of progress by the ONDCP, the report acknowledges that drug related deaths are at record highs; that drugs are more available, cheaper, and purer than ever before; and that most addicts needing treatment do not receive it.

The Drug War budget in the coming fiscal year is the highest it has ever been at $19.2 billion. The report shows the largest increases in funding for interdiction and supply reduction efforts. In the proposal, the ONDCP wants to increase funding by 11.4 percent for interdiction over the previous year and 10.3 percent for supply reduction. The ONDCP listed its top funding priority as, "Support for Plan Colombia and drug control activities in the Andean region." The national "youth anti-drug" media campaign is listed as the second priority. Treatment is third.

*The Drug Policy foundation, having merged with The Lindesmith Center is now The Drug Policy Alliance