Sharp Rise in Non-Drug Related Forfeiture Lawsuits

Number Latest Month 176
Percent Change from previous month 179.4%
Percent Change from 1 year ago 1.6%
Percent Change from 5 years ago 24.7%

Table 1. Non-Drug Related
Forfeiture Civil Filings

The latest available data from the federal courts show that during October 2014 the government reported 176 new asset forfeiture lawsuits concerning the seizure of property and assets in cases that were not drug-related. These cases had the nature of suit classified by the court system under "Forfeiture/Penalty — Other". According to the case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), this number is up 179.4 percent over the previous month when the number of civil filings of this type totaled 63.

The comparisons of the number of civil filings for non-drug related asset forfeiture lawsuits are based on case-by-case court records which were compiled and analyzed by TRAC (see Table 1).

Nearly two-thirds of these lawsuits were filed in the Eastern District of North Carolina. North Carolina is the only state in which civil forfeiture is essentially nonexistent in state law, so in many instances local authorities partner with federal agencies to seize property without the more stringent burden of proof that would be required in a criminal case.

When monthly 2014 civil filings of this type are compared with those of the same period in the previous year, their number was only slightly up (1.6%). Such civil filings for October 2014 are higher than they were for the same period five years ago. Overall, the data show that civil filings of this type are up 24.7 percent from levels reported in October 2009.

Bar and line plot of fymon

Figure 1. Non-Drug Related Forfeiture Civil Filings over the Last Five Years

The long term trend in civil filings for these matters going back five years is shown more clearly in Figure 1. The vertical bars in Figure 1 represent the number of other civil filings of this type recorded each month. The superimposed line on the bars plots the six-month moving average so that natural fluctuations are smoothed out. One-year and five-year change comparisons are based upon the moving averages.

Top Ranked Judicial Districts

Relative to population, the volume of civil matters of this type filed in federal district courts during October 2014 was 0.6 per every million persons in the United States. One year ago the relative number of filings was 0.2. Understandably, there is great variation in the per capita number of other civil filings in each of the nation's ninety-four federal judicial districts. Table 2 lists the ten most active districts for such cases in per capita terms in October 2014.

Judicial District Percapita Count Rank 1yr ago 5yrs ago
N Car, E 29.7 114 1 21 31
Ala, S 2.4 2 2 - -
R. I. 1.9 2 3 - 5
Fla, N 1.7 3 4 2 15
D. C. 1.6 1 5 - 3
Ind, N 1.6 4 6 3 -
N Dakota 1.4 1 7 - -
La, M 1.2 1 8 - -
W Virg, N 1.1 1 9 - -
N. Y., W 1.1 3 10 - 8

Table 2. Top Ten Districts (per One Million People)

  • The Eastern District of North Carolina — with 29.7 civil filings as compared with 0.6 civil filings per one million people in the United States — was the most active through October 2014.

  • The Southern District of Alabama ranked second.

  • The District of Rhode Island now ranks third.

A recent entry to the top 10 list was the Eastern District of North Carolina (Raleigh), now ranked first. This district ranked 21st one year ago and 31st five years ago. This district showed the greatest growth in the rate of such civil filings, having increased over 11,000 percent compared with one and five years ago.

Each month, TRAC offers a free report focused on one area of civil litigation in the U.S. district courts. In addition, subscribers to the TRACFed data service can generate custom reports by district, office, nature of suit or federal jurisdiction via the TRAC Data Interpreter.

Report Date: December 4, 2014
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Copyright 2014, TRAC Reports, Inc.