Civil asset forfeiture reform is part of the House Judiciary Committee’s criminal justice reform initiative

Washington, D.C. – The House Judiciary Committee today approved by voice vote H.R. 5283, the Deterring Undue Enforcement by Protecting Rights of Citizens from Excessive Searches and Seizures Act of 2016 (Due Process Act) to strengthen protections for Americans’ property through civil asset forfeiture reform.

The Due Process Act – introduced by Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Representative Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), and Representative Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) – raises the standard of proof law enforcement must show before depriving an individual of his or her property, increases accountability and oversight of seizures and forfeitures, and strengthens protections for Americans whose property has been seized by law enforcement agencies. The legislation is part of the House Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan criminal justice reform initiative.

Crime Subcommittee Chairman Sensenbrenner, Chairman Goodlatte, Ranking Member Conyers, and Crime Subcommittee Ranking Member Jackson Lee praised today’s approval of the Due Process Act in the statements below.

Crime Subcommittee Chairman Sensenbrenner: “Civil asset forfeiture is an important piece of the overall effort to reform our criminal justice system, and the Due Process Act makes common sense changes to federal forfeiture laws that help innocent Americans. Its passage out of the House Judiciary Committee is a significant step forward in the process, and I’m confident that it will soon be passed in a full House vote.”

Chairman Goodlatte: “The House Judiciary Committee today approved another important piece of our bipartisan criminal justice reform initiative to protect Americans from having their property wrongfully seized by law enforcement. The Due Process Act reforms civil asset forfeiture to prevent incentives to improperly seize Americans’ property. The bipartisan bill also strengthens protections for Americans who have had their property confiscated by law enforcement and increases the accountability and transparency of this law enforcement tool. I thank the many members who have worked on this bill and look forward to continuing our good work on criminal justice reform.”

Ranking Member Conyers: “I am pleased that the Committee today adopted the Due Process Act, a bill which will take significant additional steps to prevent unjust seizures and make the procedures concerning federal asset forfeiture less burdensome for innocent property owners.  For instance, the bill elevates the government’s burden of proof in civil forfeiture cases, expands the availability of counsel for those who are indigent, and affords claimants an early opportunity to challenge seizures.  These and other improvements to the law are long overdue and I look forward to House passage of this important bill.”

Crime Subcommittee Ranking Member Jackson Lee: “I am pleased to support H.R. 5283, the Due Process Act, a bill that is critically needed to update our federal asset forfeiture laws. In 2000, we adopted the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act, a law that made a number of improvements to our civil forfeiture statutes.  That law reversed the burden of proof from being on the property owner to prove that the assets should not be forfeited to the current requirement that the government must prove that seized assets are subject to forfeiture. However, for an unusual process whereby the government may seize and forfeit someone’s money, car, or other assets they need to sustain themselves, the standard should be higher. Therefore, this bill would elevate the burden on the government from ‘preponderance of the evidence’ to ‘clear and convincing evidence.’ We must ensure that the federal laws that allow for the forfeiture of money and other assets include the necessary protections to ensure the innocent do not suffer from wrongful confiscation. That is why I support this bill and urge my colleagues to do the same and look forward to its passage on the House Floor.”

Key Components of the Due Process Act: 

Reforms federal civil asset forfeiture programs

  • Enhances procedural protections of forfeiture proceedings in both civil and administrative settings and prevents government overreach
  • Increases the government’s burden of proof in civil asset forfeiture cases to help protect innocent victims

Strengthens protections for claimants

  • Creates a right to counsel for Americans in all civil asset forfeiture proceedings
  • Provides that a claimant may recover attorney’s fees in victorious cases against a government forfeiture
  • Speeds up the process for the government to notify the property owner of a seizure
  • Expands protections to innocent owners by requiring the government to prove the connection between the property and the offense and that the property was used intentionally in order to seize it

Increases accountability and oversight of seizures and forfeitures

  • Requires the Inspector General to conduct a yearly audit on a representative sample of federal civil forfeitures to ensure they are being conducted within the letter and spirit of the law
  • Requires the creation of two federal databases on forfeitures in order to make information more readily available to the public, including a catalog of federal forfeitures to assist those whose property has been seized and to provide broad details on the types of forfeiture, agencies involved, and the conduct that lead to forfeited property

###