Joshua_Wennrich_Legal Research Paper.docx - Civil Asset...

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Civil Asset Forfeiture has played a role in United States government, in both the state and federal level. With fervent advocates and detractors, Civil Asset Forfeiture recently was thrust into the national spotlight due to high-profile US Supreme Court case coupled with extensive national media coverage. This recent news is only the tail end of a long, drawn history that weaved itself throughout the government. The practice of Civil Asset Forfeiture has been a constant during our nation’s history and in fact predates the birth of the United States, stemming from British laws from the mid-17 th Century. At the heart of the issue, it asks the question of the rights of the citizen of the United States and the potential unchecked power of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies over those rights. Civil Asset Forfeiture allows government law enforcement agencies to take legal action upon inanimate object for participation in alleged criminal activity, regardless of whether the property owner if guilty or innocent—or even whether the owner is charged with a crime (Carpenter, 9). Civil Forfeiture actions are in rem proceedings, which literally means “against a thing”—the property itself is charged with a crime (Carpenter, 10). Once an asset, e.g. money, property, vehicle, etc.… is seized, the owner is now presented with the burden of proof to prove its innocence by often overwhelming evidence in a civil court. Historically, Civil Asset Forfeiture was used extensively in the 18 th and 19 th Century’s as means to fund federal government; government officials seizing assets under the guise of custom duties (Carpenter, 10). However in today’s focus, this practice has amplified under new state and federal guidance in an effort to curb crime and illegal activities. In present day context, Civil Asset Forfeiture is predominantly used in drug related cases, stemming from the mid-1980’s War on Drugs. The cumulative net value of property forfeitures in the United States increased from just over $27 million in 1985, to over $3.5 billion in 1994 (Warchol and Johnson, 3). The amount of money could be and often is incentive for police and federal law enforcement agencies to pursue this action, as much of the proceeds go to fund these very organizations. However, in many cases, individuals who have had assets seized are never charged with any crime and will spend considerable time and money in civil court to gain their assets back. Furthermore, individuals who are charged with a crime, i.e. drug-related, will lose assets whose value far exceeds than the suggested value of illegal substance. The concern of the potential unchecked power of these law enforcement agencies is palpable. Data on civil forfeitures is sparse, but researchers point to recent expansion of the
forfeiture laws by both states and Congress to state that use of forfeiture is extensive and growing (Carpenter, 11). Today there are more than 400 federal forfeiture statues relating to a

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