DEALogo DRCNet Response to the
Drug Enforcement Administration
Briefing Book

Asset Forfeiture

DEA Statement Response
Most Americans agree that criminals should not be allowed to benefit financially from their illegal acts. Federal law provides that the profits and proceeds of designated crimes, as well as property used to facilitate certain crimes, are subject to forfeiture to the government. Asset forfeiture is one of law enforcement's most effective weapons against drug trafficking because it takes the profit out of crime. If forfeiture was used exclusively, or even primarily, against major criminals, few Americans would have a problem with it.  But, sadly, that is not the case.  The vast majority of seizures are of property worth less than $50,000, and is made from ordinary citizens who are never charged with a crime.

To meet some of the people who have been harmed by this asset forfeiture program, see the Forfeiture Endangers American Rights web site.  There you will find a litany of abuses and legal looting which shocks the conscience -- including the murder of innocent people by drug agents seeking to seize their property unlawfully.

Asset forfeiture has been a part of American jurisprudence since the Colonial period. The First Congress enacted laws in 1789 subjecting vessels and cargoes to civil forfeiture for violations of customs laws. Simply arresting the captain and crew of a foreign smuggling ship was ineffective if the ship was returned to its owner. The owner would merely hire a new crew and send the ship back on another smuggling run. While forfeiture has been used in America's past, its use was generally very restricted and at no time did it reach the massive levels of abuse which are found in the current system.  There are many abuses associated with modern forfeiture.

In September, 1995, California Lawyer, the magazine of the California Bar Association, reported that many police departments in California have become dependent on drug-related seizures for items of basic budget.  In the simplest terms, if the police do not make enough seizures, then police officers will lose their jobs.  The seizures they make provide direct benefit to the officers making the seizures and thus encourage goverment-sanctioned corruption.

As just one other example, in the late 1980s, the entire narcotics squad of the Los Angeles Sheriff was fired and 28 members went to jail for corruption.  Officers testified that they would routinely falsify evidence to seize cars they liked.  One officer testified that they had seized between ten and fifteen million dollars cash in one year -- and not one cent of it was a legitimate bust.

Financial and asset forfeiture investigative activity is an integral part of DEA investigations today. The Asset Forfeiture Section of the Office of Chief Counsel oversees the asset forfeiture program within DEA. No property is forfeited unless it is determined to be a tool for, or the proceeds of, illegal activities such as drug trafficking, organized crime, and money laundering. Again, the DEA is not telling the truth. The determination of whether the property was involved in crime is made by DEA agents who have large incentives to make that determination in their own favor.  Eighty percent of all assets seizures are made from people who are never charged with a crime.
Federal civil forfeiture laws contain numerous protections against possible abuse. No property may be seized unless the government meets the standard of "probable cause," the same standard of proof required to arrest a person or secure a warrant to search a person's home. The seizure of property is equivalent to the arrest of a person; forfeiture of property is equivalent to the conviction of a person. The truth is that the property is seized on the word of a narcotics officer who often receives both direct and indirect benefits from making seizures.   The property is presumed to be "guilty" and, because it is property, not a person, none of the usual constitutional guarantees of due process apply.  It is up to the owner of the property to file legal action to recover the property which often costs more than the value of the property.

We invite anyone to closely examine the record of the DEA and the narcotics forces in this country with respect to asset forfeiture.  It is legalized looting.

The process provides for the protection of innocent parties whose property may have been seized, including banks and financial institutions that may have an interest in the seized property. Such parties may elect to have the courts consider their interests, or they may seek administrative relief without the need to go to court. In a massive legal fiction, the property is considered to have committed the crime.  Therefore, the property may be presumed guilty --even if the owner had no part in the alleged crime -- and held until the owner can prove the property is "innocent".  This is exactly the reversal of the protections afforded to people.  People who have had their property seized usually find that the DEA is conducting extortion -- in many cases, the people who lost their property are required to pay ransom in order to recover it -- even when those people are innocent and they had no part in any crime.
The DEA has asset forfeiture groups in nearly all of its field divisions, and in FY 95 provided asset forfeiture training to more than 9,500 law enforcement officers, both domestic and international. DEA's asset forfeiture program was responsible for the seizure of assets worth more than $645 million during the FY 95. The DEA is seeking to expand their asset forfeiture everywhere they can.   They can take your property today, without notice or even any concrete evidence that you or the property has been involved in any crime.  It is institutionalized corruption in the purest form.


Travel back to the DRCNet Response to the DEA Home Page

Travel back to the DRCNet List of DEA Publications

Travel back to the Table of Contents