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February 18, 2016

Unconstitutional Civil Asset Forfeiture Practices Must Be Reformed


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, February 18, 2016

CONTACT: Erin Humiston, (972) 874-5139, or


DALLAS – Civil asset forfeiture, the seizure of citizens’ property by state and federal law enforcement, is often abusive and frequently violates numerous constitutional rights. The practice must be reformed, or better yet: renounced. 

“Recent developments in how law enforcement officials seize citizens’ property who have not been charged with or convicted of a crime have raised serious concerns—including racial profiling and constitutional infringements,” writes Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI) resident scholar Dr. Merrill Matthews in a new publication, “Civil Asset Forfeiture and the Constitution.”

As currently practiced, civil asset forfeiture undermines several constitutional protections including the:

  • Fifth and Fourth Amendments’ due process clause (perhaps the most egregious violation),
  • Fifth Amendennt’s takings clause,
  • Fourth Amendment’s Unreasonable Search and Seizure Clause, and
  • Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause.

“The states and the federal government have a strong financial interest in keeping property seized through civil asset forfeiture,” said Matthews. Seized assets have become a major part of law enforcement budgets, and the problem is only growing worse. The Justice Department’s Assets Forfeiture Fund took in $4.5 billion in 2014, as compared to $93.7 million in 1986.

And while Congress passed the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA) in 2000 to stem forfeiture abuse, its exponential growth shows CAFRA clearly has failed. 

However, Sen. Rand Paul’s (R- Ky.) 2014 FAIR (Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration) Act, would restore the Due Process Clause by requiring law enforcement officials to prove their case before keeping anyone’s seized property. “Additionally, the bill requires state and local law enforcement to abide by their state laws limiting profiteering from seized property,” said Matthews.

“One of the primary goals of the U.S. Constitution is to protect citizens’ liberties and property from a powerful, overbearing government,” said Matthews. “And while Sen. Paul’s legislation is a good start to curbing this abusive system, it’s only a start. It will likely take a new administration that is committed to the Constitution and the rule of law before civil asset forfeiture is effectively reined in.”


The Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI) is an independent, non profit public policy research organization based in Dallas. IPI resident scholar Merrill Matthews, Ph.D., is available for interview by contacting Erin Humiston, (972) 874-5139, or Copies of “Civil Asset Forfeiture and the Constitution,” are available at


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