Today, Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and 12 of his colleagues introduced legislation to rein in civil forfeiture abuse, signing on as an original cosponsor of the DUE PROCESS Act of 2016. The bill makes several important changes to the nation's federal civil forfeiture program to help curb recent abuses and prevent Americans from having their property taken away by law enforcement without due process.
Congressman Darrell Issa had the following to say:
"Civil forfeiture remains one of the greatest assaults to property rights and due process in America today. What was once intended to ensure drug dealers couldn't keep the fruits of their illegal activities has now become grossly misused to allow law enforcement to a take away the property of ordinary, innocent Americans simply trying to live out their lives.
Though there are still issues to be addressed, the legislation we're putting forward today is a great starting point for a conversation on how we're going to stop these abuses. I look forward to working with, educating, and engaging my colleagues on both sides of the aisle on this important issue so that we can pass meaningful reform for the people being harmed by this injustice every day."
Among other changes, the bill will help fix some of the recent problems and abuses under civil forfeiture by:
Protecting innocent property owners. Under the act, if the government is attempting to forfeit property under civil forfeiture, the government would have to prove that that (1) there was a substantial connection between the property and the offense and (2) that the owner of the property intentionally used, knowingly consented, or reasonably should have known that the property was being used in connection with the offense.
Requiring faster notice of seizure to property owners. Under current law, the government has 60 days to notify a property owner that their property was taken. The DUE PROCESS Act will reduce this to 30 days.
Making it easier for property owners to contest takings. The DUE PROCESS Act would require law enforcement to notify property owners of the address where they can contest a seizure, to inform them of their right to request an initial hearing, to inform them of their right to be represented by counsel at that hearing, and also of their right to have counsel provided if the property owner is indigent.
Giving property owners more time to respond. The DUE PROCESS Act extends the period that property owners have to respond to a seizure. In a personal notice, they will have 65 days (increased from 35 days) and in the case of a public notice, 60 days (increased from 30).
Helping property owners get their seized property back quicker. Under current law, the government has 90 days after an objection is filed to commence forfeiture proceedings, but courts can extend this time period with a simple motion. Under the DUE PROCESS Act, the period can be extended only by agreement of both parties.
The law would also give a property owner the ability to request an initial hearing at which a magistrate judge would order the immediate release of a property owner's seized property if it was not made according to law.
Increasing the burden of proof required. The DUE PROCESS Act would raise the government's burden of proof from "a preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing."
Bolstering right to counsel. Under current law, many defendants who have had assets seized before trial do not have the ability to access those assets, even if they are their only means to pay for counsel. The DUE PROCESS Act would allow defendants access to a hearing where a judge could determine whether the seizure should be modified or rescinded to preserve the defendant's right to counsel.
Recovery of attorney's fees. The DUE PROCESS Act would allow for recovery of attorney's fees when civil forfeiture cases are resolved through settlement if the settlement amount is greater than half of the seized property's value.
Increasing transparency. The Act would require the Attorney General to establish two C: one to catalogue all federal forfeitures to help people recover property taken and the other to inform the public on the types of forfeiture being used, the agencies involved and the conduct that lead to the seizure.
A copy of the bill text can be found here.
The bill introduced today was sponsored by Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and it's original cosponsors are Representatives Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), David Trott (R-Mich.), Mimi Walters (R-Calif.), and Cedric Richmond (D-La.).