Policing for Profit



“This tightly reasoned document is a call for action by legislatures, citizens and,
in the last resort, the Supreme Court.”
Richard A. Epstein, University of Chicago Law School



Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture

By Marian R. Williams, Ph.D.
Jefferson E. Holcomb, Ph.D.
Tomislav V. Kovandzic, Ph.D.
Scott Bullock

March 2010

Download Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture

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Video: Policing for Profit 


Civil forfeiture laws represent one of the most serious assaults on private property rights in the nation today.  Under civil forfeiture, police and prosecutors can seize your car or other property, sell it and use the proceeds to fund agency budgets—all without so much as charging you with a crime.  Unlike criminal forfeiture, where property is taken after its owner has been found guilty in a court of law, with civil forfeiture, owners need not be charged with or convicted of a crime to lose homes, cars, cash or other property.

Americans are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but civil forfeiture turns that principle on its head.  With civil forfeiture, your property is guilty until you prove it innocent.

Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture
chronicles how state and federal laws leave innocent property owners vulnerable to forfeiture abuse and encourage law enforcement to take property to boost their budgets.  The report finds that by giving law enforcement a direct financial stake in forfeiture efforts, most state and federal laws encourage policing for profit, not justice.  

Policing for Profit
also grades the states on how well they protect property owners—only three states receive a B or better.  And in most states, public accountability is limited as there is little oversight or reporting about how police and prosecutors use civil forfeiture or spend the proceeds.

Federal laws encourage even more civil forfeiture abuse through a loophole called “equitable sharing” that allows law enforcement to circumvent even the limited protections of state laws.  With equitable sharing, law enforcement agencies can and do profit from forfeitures they wouldn’t be able to under state law.

It’s time to end civil forfeiture.  People shouldn’t lose their property without being convicted of a crime, and law enforcement shouldn’t be able to profit from other people’s property.

Executive Summary


Foreword by Scott Bullock


Part I: Policing for Profit by Williams, Holcomb and Kovandzic


Part II: Grading the States by Scott Bullock


Detail: Final State Forfeiture Grades and Map

Download by State



Stories of Forfeiture Abuse



Appendix A: Methods


Appendix B: Detailed Statistical Results


Reviews, Endorsements and What's Being Said About Policing for Profit




Maps, Charts and Facts

Model Legislation, Reports, Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Map: Policing for Profit State Grades

Model Asset Forfeiture Law

EndForfeiture.com: IJ's Initiative to End Policing for Profit
Table: Civil Forfeiture Proceeds Distributed to Law Enforcement

Report: Forfeiting Accountability: Georgia Law Enforcement's Hidden Civil Forfeiture Funds 

Table: Standard of Proof in State Forfeiture Laws  Report: A Stacked Deck: How Minnesota's Civil Forfeiture Laws Put Citizens' Property at Risk 
Table: Innocent Owner Burden in State Civil Forfeiture Laws


Report: Rotten Reporting in the Peach State: Civil Forfeiture in Georgia Leaves the Public in the Dark  
Graph: Deposits to Department of Justice Assets Forfeiture Fund, 2001 to 2008 Report: Arizona's Profit Incentive in Civil Forfeiture: Dangerous for law enforcement; Dangerous for Arizonans 
Graph: Net Assets of Departments of Justice and Treasury Forfeiture Funds, 2000 to 2008 Report: Inequitable Justice 
Graph: Equitable Sharing Payments to States from the Department of Justice Assets Forfeiture Fund, 2000 to 2008 Report: Public Opinion and Civil Forfeiture 
Table: Boost in Equitable Sharing Payments from Stricter State Laws Report: Forfeiting Justice: How Texas Police and Prosecutors Cash in on Seized Property 
Video: Ending Forfeiture Abuse: How States Can Be Tough on Crime and Respecting Property Rights

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