Save the EPA rally, 4/25/18 in front of EPA headquarters. Jamie Raskin speaking.

Representatives Jamie Raskin and Tim Walberg have reintroduced the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act, also known as the Fair Act, which is a bipartisan bill that would raise the standard for seizing property on the federal level. The bill would reform the IRS structuring statue to protect the innocent small business owners and would increase transparency and congressional oversight of civil asset forfeiture practices. While this bill only targets federal cases of civil asset forfeiture, it will reduce the amount of instances in which this practice is used and will serve as a roadmap for states who wish to follow suit. 

Currently, federal law enforcement agencies can seize civilian property regardless of whether the individual was convicted of a crime. The same is true for most state and local governments. Once property is seized, regardless of whether the individual was ever found guilty of a crime that justifies law enforcement actions, it is often an expensive and complicated process to retrieve one’s stolen assets. The Institute for Justice estimates that a legal fight to reclaim property costs an average of $3,000 per case.  

This bill would help restore the presumption of innocence to this practice on the federal level. While state civil asset forfeiture laws would remain in place, this first step by Congress would help encourage state lawmakers to reverse this unjust practice. 

Rep. Jamie Raskin said:  

“The lawless seizure and ‘forfeiture’ of people’s private property by police officers is becoming standard operating procedure in many parts of the country,” Raskin said in the release. “We want to restore the presumption of innocence, fair judicial process, and the opportunity to be heard. I’m proud to introduce this important bipartisan legislation with my friend Rep. Walberg to rein in civil asset forfeiture and restore due process rights.” 

According to the DOJ, Treasury, and FBI, law enforcement officials seize more property than burglars in terms of annual dollar value. Between the years 2000 to 2019, law enforcement has seized $69 billion worth of assets from individuals, most of whom were never charged with a crime. Even more astounding is that this figure is only in reference to federal property seizures, excluding state and local law enforcement property seizures. 

Rep. Tony Cardenes said: 

 “Seizing property and handing it over to the government without proof of wrongdoing is fundamentally un-American,” Cárdenas said in the release. “In the United States, we are innocent until proven guilty, and the government may not seize our property without just cause. It’s past time to reform our civil asset forfeiture system and make it fairer for the American people.” 

Rep. Tim Walberg said:  

“It’s been far too easy for the government to seize a private citizen’s property, in some cases even without criminal charges being brought,” said Rep. Walberg. “The FAIR Act brings important reforms to limit government overreach and restores constitutional rights. Across the political spectrum, the FAIR Act has garnered support and I look forward to my continued work with Congressman Raskin as we fight to get this critical legislation signed into law.” 

While state governments still need to target their own civil asset forfeiture laws, hopefully states that continue to allow for civil asset forfeiture will follow this lead and abolish these policies.