The vast majority of people who have had cash seized by the Drug Enforcement Agency weren’t convicted of doing anything wrong.
In a report released on March 29, the Department of Justice’s Inspector General found that, since 2007, the DEA seized $3.2 billion in cash from people who weren’t charged with any crime. With the total cash seized in that time totaling just over $4 billion, that means 81% of the money seized came from people with no charge at all.
Civil asset forfeiture allows the DEA to seize cash, real estate, cars or even personal items from people suspected of dealing drugs or engaging in organized crime.
But the DOJ report found that out of the 100 cases it looked at randomly, 56% of the time “there was no discernible connection between the seizure and the advancement of law enforcement efforts.”
Such a report “raises serious concerns that maybe [the] real purpose here is not to fight crime, but to seize and forfeit property,” Darpana Sheth, a senior attorney for the Institute of Justice, told the Washington Post.
The report highlights a case in which a task force from Florida’s Bal Harbour Police Department arrested 84 individuals and seized more than $49 million without filing a single criminal indictment.
“Such outcomes can raise questions about whether seizures are intended to serve legitimate law enforcement interests or to bolster law enforcement budgets,” the report concludes.
In the past, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and even late show host John Oliver have spoken out against the problem of seizing money and property from people who may not have committed any crime.
To decrease the number of unnecessary seizures, the report recommends collecting data to evaluate whether seizure is necessary, reviewing seizure practices, providing more seizure and forfeiture training to DEA officers, and monitoring the recommendations in Attorney General Eric Holder’s 2015 order on the same subject.