Law Enforcement Agencies Take More Property From Americans Than Burglars

According to a recent story in the Washington Post, law enforcement agencies took more property from Americans in 2014 than burglars did, seizing more than $5 billion in assets. In comparison, burglars took about $3.5 billion.

Law enforcement agencies can take property and even cash from people — often without even charging or convicting them of a crime — via a controversial practice known as civil asset forfeiture. This practice came into vogue in the 1980s during the “war on drugs.” Congress changed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act to create the Department of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture Fund, allowing police to keep the assets they seized and creating a financial incentive that is still alive and well today.

Proponents of asset forfeiture argue that the law is essential to breaking up large criminal enterprises. They note that Asset Forfeiture Fund deposits are not necessarily an accurate measurement of the widespread use of the practice since they typically include one or two high-dollar cases where assets are seized then returned to victims. For example, the 2014 total included a $1.7 billion judgment from Bernie Madoff.

Opponents of the practice argue that it is used most often against small-time criminals and those who have not been charged or convicted of any crime. Laws differ by state as to how much property or cash can be seized by law enforcement. In Texas, law enforcement agencies are allowed to keep 45-75% of seized assets.

Although asset forfeiture was meant to be used primarily for criminal matters, the Institute for Justice has reported that 87& of federal forfeitures were for civil, not criminal, cases. Although data for all U.S. states is not available, the Institute for Justice reported that the asset forfeiture total for 14 states in 2013 was $250 million.

The Cogdell Law Firm is a full service criminal litigation and appellate law firm. We provide client-focused representation at all stages of the process, whether our clients are seeking to avoid charges, have been charged, or are seeking reversal of a conviction on appeal. When results matter most, contact Dan Cogdell at (713) 426-2244 or