How Much Private Property is the Government Stealing in Your State?

You’ve probably heard about eminent domain abuse. That’s where the government takes your land and hands it over to another private party….one that is more politically connected.

But you may not have heard about civil forfeiture. And yet, today, it could very well be the most egregious abuse of private property rights in America.

We all know that one of the many beautiful things about the United States is that citizens are innocent until proven guilty. But civil forfeiture turns that fundamental principle on its head.

This sounds bizarre, but with civil forfeiture, your property is guilty until you prove it innocent.

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Consider the case of Margaret Davis.

As a 77-year-old woman living alone with multiple medical problems, Margaret left her Pennsylvania home unlocked so her neighbors could regularly check on her. One day while the police were chasing alleged drug dealers through her neighborhood, they all ran through Margaret’s house. The dealers dropped some of their stash on Margaret’s floor, in plain sight.

Instead of apologizing to Margaret for the traumatic experience, the government seized her house.

Under civil forfeiture laws, Margaret’s property–her house–was guilty until she could prove it innocent to get it back. And that’s not all. As it turns out, most state and federal laws allow the government to keep the property they take through civil forfeiture. So authorities have a big incentive to pursue property over justice.

Predictably, abuse is rampant:

  • In Louisiana, police were caught stealing innocent people’s property by making up crimes that never happened. They used the proceeds to fund ski trips to Aspen.

  • In Texas, a government official was caught pumping forfeiture funds into his re-election campaign.

  • In Nebraska, officials stole over $124,000 from a resident without ever charging, let alone convicting, him of a crime.

  • In Missouri, authorities were caught turning forfeitures over to the federal government in order to avoid a legal requirement that proceeds go to schools. That way, both groups could split the proceeds without having to share any with the children that were supposed to get the money.

Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents. Civil forfeiture is now a nationwide epidemic. A new report by the Institute for Justice found that the federal government is now holding over a billion dollars in assets seized through civil forfeiture.

And that’s not counting any of the state and local governments.

IJ’s report, available to view and download for free here, is the first to grade the civil forfeiture laws of the federal government and all 50 states.

What grade did your state get? You can easily search the report by state here.

This is part of a new national campaign started by the Institute for Justice to end civil forfeiture. We also filed suit in Texas, which has some of the worst forfeiture laws and practices in the country.

We are representing a small business entrepreneur from Houston whose American Dream was turned into a nightmare after his property was stolen through civil forfeiture. He did nothing wrong and was never accused of a crime.

Our forfeiture campaign follows in the footsteps of our eminent domain work. In courtrooms across the country, we will keep fighting the government to secure the bedrock American principle of private property rights.

Even though IJ has had tremendous success in courts, eminent domain abuse was stopped in large part by grassroots activists. We desperately need a similar grassroots backlash against civil forfeiture. Simply put, we need your help.

Will you work with IJ to help end civil forfeiture?

Please speak out. Consider blogging and talking about the property being stolen in your state. I encourage you to make use of the research included in our forfeiture report as well as our forfeiture video.

Should you write something up, please email me the link at bewing@ij.org. And if you have any questions, or you’d like to be a part of our national coalition of property rights activists, just let me know.

Governments should protect, not plunder, our property. Common sense and justice demand that this rampant abuse of private property rights must end.

Our fight will not be easy. But working together, we can stamp out the injustices of civil forfeiture once and for all.


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