Rep. Fights Forfeiture with Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2014

In the House of Representatives, Congressman Tim Walberg has sponsored H.R. 5212, the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2014 (CAFRA 2014), to reform federal civil forfeiture laws. Like the FAIR Act, Walberg’s bill would:

  • Shift the burden of proof to the federal government. Under current law, property owners are required to prove they are innocent to get their seized property back. But with this new legislation, the government would have to prove that an owner intentionally used his or her property for criminal activity (or consented to its illegal use by another person).
  • Raise the standard of proof required to forfeit property. Right now, the government only needs to show that a property is connected to a crime by a “preponderance of the evidence” (more likely than not) in civil forfeiture cases. If CAFRA 2014 passes, the federal government would instead need to prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that there was a substantial connection between illegal conduct and property.

Additionally, the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2014 would:

  • Give property owners a right to an attorney in civil forfeiture cases. Since these cases are in civil court, not in criminal court, property owners battling civil forfeiture do not have a constitutional right to an attorney to represent them. Often, the cost to hire an attorney is worth more than the property that was seized so many civil forfeiture cases aren’t even challenged in court. CAFRA 2014 would help rectify this injustice.
  • Require more transparency for forfeiture funds. The bill would specifically identify which funds were obtained from criminal forfeiture and which ones were from civil forfeiture, providing more information about law enforcement’s forfeiture activities to Congress.
  • Restrict participation in equitable sharing. Under the new legislation,local and state law enforcement could only take part in equitable sharing if they do not circumvent state civil forfeiture laws.