Last week, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) introduced H.R. 5283, the Deterring Undue Enforcement by Protecting Rights of Citizens from Excessive Searches and Seizures (DUE PROCESS) Act, to alter the corrupt federal civil asset forfeitures disrupting American citizens. Americans for Tax Reform is proud to endorse this legislation that restores the rights of innocent citizens from the broken civil asset forfeiture system.

Today, the bill passed the House Judiciary Committee. In the Committee hearing, Sensenbrenner thanked ATR’s support for the bill, stating that “I would like to note the statements in favor of this legislation from…Americans for Tax Reform,” among others.

Civil asset forfeiture is the process by which the government can seize peoples’ property without convictions or warrants. It obstructs inherent rights granted to American citizens in the Bill of Rights. 

H.R. 5283 increases transparency in civil asset forfeiture proceedings by adding protections for innocent property owners and ensuring that property owners can contest wrongful seizures. It requires the government to give property back to owners while making it easier for them to be heard in court. By facilitating an initial hearing for affected property owners, the DUE PROCESS Act gives folks an opportunity to physically retrieve their confiscated property early in the process if it was not lawfully seized. It also places a higher burden of proof on the federal government, bringing the process closer to criminal asset forfeiture.

Along with Sensenbrenner, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), Crime Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Representative Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), and Representative Peter Roskam (R-Ill.)  supported for the bill.

About the bill, Sensenbrenner stated,

“Forfeiture is a critical tool in the fight against crime, but it is also vulnerable to abuse. The DUE PROCESS Act, among other things, will increase transparency and add protections for innocent property owners, including the opportunity to contest seizures and regain illegally seized property immediately. Reform to the current federal forfeiture laws is necessary to curb abuse, restore confidence in law enforcement, and help citizens protect their property rights.”

Federal asset forfeiture must be changed, and the DUE PROCESS Act is a step in the right direction.

ATR President Grover Norquist highlighted,

From 2004 to 2014, the amount of money taken by federal law enforcement increased from under $1 billion to over $5 billion. This represents a significant amount of unaccountable money with little oversight from elected officials to be freely spent by the agencies that confiscated the assets.

For these reasons, states across the nation, including New Mexico, North Carolina, Maryland, and Florida, reformed forfeiture procedure to change it into a criminal-focused regime. The DUE PROCESS Act brings federal rules closer to acceptable standards of protection by increasing evidentiary standards in asset forfeiture proceedings, granting access to counsel for Americans during the proceedings, and improving oversight of forfeited assets and funds.

Unfortunately, this legislation does not touch on one of the most contentious aspects of the federal asset forfeiture program: equitable sharing.

Local law enforcement uses equitable sharing to partner with federal agents to pursue civil asset forfeiture cases using federal rules rather than state rules. Local agencies then receive a high percentage—as high as 80 percent—of seized assets while the Department of Justice keeps some cash for itself.

As stated previously, many states already took steps to give their residents additional legal protections. With equitable sharing, local law enforcement can maintain their profit incentives and use the less stringent standards opposed to their state legislatures. Congress must address equitable sharing profit incentives to ensure that higher state protections are respected.

It is important to note that the vast majority of the men and women who serve as law enforcement officials put their lives on the line to protect their communities. Friction created by civil asset forfeiture between those communities and the people that protect them damages this trusting relationship.”

The full letter can be read here.