Civil Asset Forfeiture Filings Lower But Usage Varies Widely
(25 May 2017) The latest available data from the federal courts show that during April 2017 the government reported 74 new civil asset forfeiture filings. For the twelve months ending in April, the number of these filings was just 984. According to the case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), this running 12-month total is down 15 percent from one year ago in April 2016, and down 56 percent from the comparable levels reported five years ago in April 2012.

Asset forfeiture involves confiscation of assets by the state. Civil asset forfeiture suits filed in April 2017, for example, bear case titles such as: United States of America v. $75,000.00 in U.S. Currency; United States of America v. 460 Cottongrass, Teton County, Idaho; and United States of America v. One 2011 Chevrolet Tahoe. This is because the assets or property, not actual individuals, are being sued in these actions.

The use - and alleged misuse - of asset forfeiture laws at the federal, state and local level have long been a subject of spirited public debate. While the objective is to deprive individuals of the alleged proceeds of crime, or of property used in the commission of crime, assets of totally innocent individuals sometimes can end up being confiscated.

There was wide variation in the use of civil asset forfeiture filings among the 93 U.S. Attorney offices during the first seven months of FY 2017. Relative to its population size, the Western District of New York (Buffalo) had the highest rate of filings with over four times the national average. The Southern District of Alabama (Mobile) was second, with three and a half times the national average, while New Mexico was third with a rate that was three times the national average.

In terms of sheer number of suits, the Central District of California (Los Angeles) had the most with a total of 51 civil asset forfeiture cases during the first seven months of FY 2017. Puerto Rico was second with 27 suits filed, followed by the Western District of New York with 23.

For further details on each U.S. Attorney Office, as well as on these national trends, see:

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