Key Facts About Forfeiture

Forfeiture activity has exploded

Forfeited cash and proceeds from the sale of forfeited property generate revenue for the government—and provide an important measure of law enforcement’s forfeiture activity.

  • In 1986, the Department of Justice’s Assets Forfeiture Fund took in $93.7 million in revenue from federal forfeitures. By 2014, annual deposits had reached $4.5 billion—a 4,667 percent increase.
  • The forfeiture funds of the DOJ and Treasury Department together took in nearly $29 billion from 2001 to 2014, and combined annual revenue grew 1,000 percent over the period.
  • Total annual forfeiture revenue across 14 states more than doubled from 2002 to 2013. Those 14 states were the only states for which the Institute for Justice could obtain forfeiture revenues for an extended period.
  • Between 2000 and 2013, annual Justice Department equitable sharing payments to state and local law enforcement more than tripled, growing from $198 million to $643 million. In all, the DOJ paid state and local agencies $4.7 billion in forfeiture proceeds from 2000 to 2013.

Civil forfeiture far outpaces criminal forfeiture

Criminal forfeiture requires a criminal conviction to deprive people of their property. By contrast, civil forfeiture allows law enforcement to take property from innocent people never convicted of or even charged with a crime, making it easier for the government to forfeit property and harder for property owners to fight back.

  • Just 13 percent of Department of Justice forfeitures from 1997 to 2013 were criminal forfeitures; 87 percent were civil forfeitures.
  • Among DOJ civil forfeitures, 88 percent took place “administratively.” Administrative forfeitures happen automatically when a property owner fails to challenge a seizure in court for any reason, including the inability to afford a lawyer or a missed deadline to file a claim.

For more information, check out Policing for Profit.