Research


The Institute for Justice’s flagship forfeiture report, Policing for Profit, grades the civil forfeiture laws of each state and the federal government and demonstrates how financial incentives to seize property, in combination with weak protections for property owners, put people’s property at risk. IJ has also published reports exposing the injustices with federal civil forfeiture programs, including “equitable sharing” and IRS “structuring” seizures.

Policing For Profit

In 43 states, law enforcement gets to keep some or all of the cash, cars, homes or other property that they seize.

Civil Forfeiture Law Grades Ranked

Report: Policing for Profit

By Dick M. Carpenter II, Ph.D., Lisa Knepper, Angela C. Erickson and Jennifer McDonald, with contributions from Wesley Hottot and Keith Diggs

Civil forfeiture laws pose some of the greatest threats to property rights in the nation today, too often making it easy and lucrative for law enforcement to take and keep property—regardless of the owner’s guilt or innocence. This updated and expanded second edition of Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture makes the case for reform, grading the civil forfeiture laws of each state and the federal government, documenting remarkable growth in forfeiture activity across the country, and highlighting a worrisome lack of transparency surrounding forfeiture activity and expenditures from forfeiture funds.

Americans Overwhelmingly Oppose Civil Forfeiture

Do you support or oppose civil forfeiture?

As you may or may not know, “civil forfeiture” allows law enforcement officials to seize cash, cars, or other property if they suspect it is involved in a crime, even if the property owner has not been convicted or charged with a crime. Given this, to what extent do you support or oppose “civil forfeiture?”

  • 8% - Strongly support
  • 17% - Somewhat support
  • 23% - Somewhat oppose
  • 36% - Strongly oppose
  • 15% - No opinion

Federal law allows law enforcement agencies to keep 100 percent of proceeds from property that has been forfeited. To what extent do you support or oppose allowing law enforcement agencies to use forfeited property or its proceeds for their own use?

  • 7% - Strongly support
  • 16% - Somewhat support
  • 19% - Somewhat oppose
  • 44% - Strongly oppose
  • 15% - Don't Know/No opinion

States like Minnesota and others have recently passed laws limiting the use of civil forfeiture, but legislators left in place a provision allowing local law enforcement to work with federal officials to bypass the tougher state law. Once federal prosecutors forfeit the property, they give 80 percent back to the local officials. Do you agree that state law enforcement officials should be allowed to participate in and benefit from forfeitures that are not permitted under state law?

  • 7% - Strongly agree
  • 23% - Somewhat agree
  • 28% - Somewhat disagree
  • 41% - Strongly disagree

IJ's Civil Forfeiture Research

Fighting Crime or Raising Revenue?

June 9, 2019

This study—the most extensive and sophisticated of its kind—combines more than a decade’s worth of data from the nation’s largest forfeiture program, the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program, with local crime, drug use and economic data from a variety of federal sources. Results are clear: Forfeiture has no meaningful effect on crime fighting, but forfeiture activity does increase when local economies suffer.

Forfeiture Transparency and Accountability

January 16, 2019

Most civil and criminal forfeiture activity happens with little legislative or public oversight. So does most spending from forfeiture funds. This report examines forfeiture reporting requirements and practices for all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and the U.S. departments of Justice and the Treasury. It finds that forfeiture programs nationwide suffer from a lack of transparency and accountability.

Civil Forfeiture, Crime Fighting and Safeguards for the Innocent

December 9, 2018

In 2017, the Department of Justice revived a controversial federal forfeiture program the previous administration had sharply curtailed. Using the DOJ’s own data, this paper finds that the DOJ cannot substantiate its claim that civil forfeiture fights crime. It also concludes that the DOJ’s new safeguards are unlikely to provide meaningful protection to innocent property owners.

Forfeiture in Arizona

December 8, 2018

In 2017, Arizona adopted incremental but important bipartisan reforms of the state’s civil forfeiture system, including new transparency requirements for forfeiture. The first full year of these new reports—for Fiscal Year 2018—is already illuminating. The Institute for Justice’s analysis of these reports finds evidence of forfeiture abuse in Arizona.

Seize First, Question Later: The IRS and Civil Forfeiture

March 12, 2015

Thanks to federal civil forfeiture laws, the Internal Revenue Service has seized millions of dollars from thousands of Americans’ bank accounts without proof of criminal wrongdoing. The IRS claimed the funds were illegally “structured”—deposited or withdrawn in small amounts to evade federal reporting requirements imposed on banks—and simply took the money.

Bad Apples or Bad Laws?: Testing the Incentives of Civil Forfeiture

January 22, 2015

Critics of civil forfeiture have long argued that allowing law enforcement to take property and pocket the proceeds creates incentives to put profits ahead of justice. This report shows that the incentives in civil forfeiture laws do change behavior, and not in a good way: Civil forfeiture creates a strong temptation for law enforcement to seize property to pad their own budgets.

Arizona’s Profit Incentive in Civil Forfeiture: Dangerous for law enforcement; Dangerous for Arizonans

July 28, 2014

Arizona law enforcement’s forfeiture revenue grew almost 400 percent from 2000 to 2011, with the largest share of proceeds spent on salaries and benefits.

Rotten Reporting in the Peach State: Civil Forfeiture in Georgia Leaves the Public in the Dark

July 28, 2014

Georgia law enforcement agencies routinely fail to publicly report their forfeiture activities, despite a state law and a successful lawsuit requiring disclosure.

Forfeiting Justice: How Texas Police and Prosecutors Cash In On Seized Property

July 28, 2014

From 2001 to 2007, Texas law enforcement’s take from forfeited property tripled—and nearly a quarter was spent on salaries and overtime.

A Stacked Deck: How Minnesota’s Civil Forfeiture Laws Put Citizens’ Property at Risk

July 28, 2014

From 2003 to 2010, forfeiture revenue in Minnesota jumped 75 percent, even as crime rates declined, and the average value of forfeited property was only $1,000.

Inequitable Justice: How Federal “Equitable Sharing” Encourages Local Police and Prosecutors to Evade State Civil Forfeiture Law for Financial Gain

July 22, 2014

Federal laws encourage local law enforcement to skirt state property rights protections to cash in on seized property.