DOJ Eyeing Americans ‘Like ATMs,’ Spending Over $6 Billion To Aid Civil Asset Forfeitures, Watchdog Says

The Department of Justice, perhaps worried House Republicans may reduce its funding, allocated $6 billion to private companies involved with seizing cash and property from taxpayers.

Civil asset forfeiture is a lucrative business for law enforcement agencies because they are not required to charge individuals with a crime from whom they confiscate cash and property. Many victims do not sue for return of their money.

A DOJ report reveals it benefited to the tune of $1.8 billion in 2022 from seizures of assets that were linked to crimes.

“You’ve probably heard the adage, ‘you’ve gotta spend money to make money,” said Dan Alban, head of the Institute for Justice’s National Initiative to End Forfeiture. “Here, it’s ‘you’ve gotta spend money to take money.’”

Using civil asset seizure, which lets the government seize assets from individuals without formally charging them with any criminal offense, has long been a point of contention.

The DOJ announced earlier this year that more than $6 billion in contracts were awarded to private companies to help with asset forfeiture investigations. 

Contractors help with everything from investigating and identifying assets for seizure to record keeping and testifying in court.

“Congress must act to prevent law enforcement from treating ordinary Americans like ATMs,” asserted Alban, noting the $6 billion appropriated for asset seizure.

Critics have repeatedly raised alarms about its implications, particularly the undue challenges innocent citizens face when attempting to retrieve their seized property.

As the law currently stands, the onus is on the property owner to provide evidence of their innocence, rather than the government proving their guilt.

The Institute for Justice, a longstanding critic of the civil asset forfeiture process, claims the contracts underscore the scale at which asset forfeiture operations are being conducted.

TIJ add forfeiture practices disproportionately impact ordinary Americans, particularly with small-scale forfeitures.

Despite arguments from law enforcement agencies that asset forfeitures serve as both a deterrent and disruptive tool against illicit activities, there are increasing questions about the fairness and transparency of the procedure.

This recent allocation of funds by the DOJ only deepens these concerns, prompting many to wonder if the rights of citizens are being adequately safeguarded.

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