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Today, the government can take your property even if there isn’t a criminal conviction, or charge through civil asset forfeiture. As a result, victims of civil asset forfeiture are held to a complicated process where they are forced to fight for the innocence and legality of their property.

Many innocent Americans never see their property after the government confiscates it. A ten year report that ended in 2016 found that only 8% of all property owners who had seized cash had it returned, while 92% of victims did not see a cent of their money go back in their own pockets.

The government is turning more and more to seized assets using civil asset forfeiture. In 1986, the Department of Justice took in $93.7 million in deposits from civil asset forfeiture and by 2014, deposits had increased to $4.5 billion, a 4,667 percent spike. 

It is clear the government leeches off of civil asset forfeiture, and the problem is only getting worse.

Recently, Congressmen Tim Walberg, Tom McClintock, and Thomas Massie, Jamie Raskin, Tony Cardenas, and Bobby Rush introduced the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act (FAIR Act, H.R. 1895) which would bring us closer to ending civil asset forfeiture by creating basic guidelines for confiscated property and increasing the federal burden of proof. Under the FAIR Act, there must be a substantial connection between the property and the offense, the owner of the seized property must be the perpetrator and the property must be intentionally used to commit the crime. Increasing the burden of proof would ensure that only convicted criminals, not law-abiding civilians, pay the price for broken laws.

The bill eliminates Equitable Sharing, a federal program that is ripe for abuse. The program allows local and state law enforcement officials to maneuver around state laws that ban civil asset forfeiture. The federal government briefly imposed some limits on equitable sharing and civil asset forfeiture under Attorney General Eric Holder but the government shifted course under Attorney General Jeff Sessions by bringing back the program.

The FAIR Act would also limit the IRS from taking money from Americans’ bank accounts. Structuring allows the IRS to take funds from a bank account when authorities suspect that deposits to the account are made in a way designed to avoid reporting laws. The FAIR Act would only allow forfeiture if the owner of the funds knowingly made the deposits in a way to avoid federal laws.

The FAIR Act would help restore due process to seized assets. ATR calls for all members of Congress to support the bill. Americans can’t afford for the government to indiscriminately take property without due process.