Cops and Coffers: Eric Holder’s Policy Change on Civil Forfeiture

Author: Jon Kelly, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

Civil forfeiture is one of the stranger aspects of the policing power exercised by federal and state governments. In short, civil forfeiture allows governments to seize and take ownership of property believed to be associated with criminal activity—either when the property helps facilitate a crime or when the property is considered a likely proceed of criminal activity.[1] However, stories of police officers seizing thousands of dollars in property from citizens without ever bringing criminal charges has brought the controversial policy under scrutiny.[2] Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent revocation of the federal government’s “equitable sharing” policy on civil forfeiture and Senator Rand Paul’s reintroduction of the FAIR Act on January 26, 2015 to the United States Senate invites a discussion about the necessity of civil forfeiture in America and what reforms are necessary to correct the unseemly nature of civil forfeiture.[3] Given the pre-existence of criminal forfeiture, the problems created by the current incentives to officers, and the questionable justifications for the practice, civil forfeiture should be abolished or at least relegated to the fringes of law enforcement where it was first conceived.

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