Guilty Money: Civil Asset Forfeiture in Nebraska
Police abuse of civil asset forfeiture laws has shaken our nation’s conscience. Civil forfeiture allows police to seize — and then keep or sell — any property they suspect may be involved in a crime. Owners need not ever be arrested or convicted of a crime for their cash, cars, or even real estate to be taken away permanently by the government.
The ACLU does not believe that all instances or uses of civil forfeiture are inherently wrong. In our research, we reviewed many court cases in which the forfeited property was found alongside drugs and the owner was ultimately convicted of a felony. In these cases, civil forfeiture operated according to plan – those dealing and smuggling drugs lost their money. However, an unacceptable number of cases involved everyday people who became entangled in an unfair system and who lost their personal property and assets even after there was no finding of wrongdoing or criminal activity. Reasonable civil forfeiture reform should allow law enforcement to seize money that is unquestionably a part of illegal activity while also allowing everyone to safely travel with cash without having to fear losing it to law enforcement.
Civil asset forfeiture reform is an emerging public policy issue due to recent well-publicized incidents indicating abuse of the process and the real life impact on everyday people in Nebraska. This issue is one that has found broad bipartisan support across the political spectrum and the same should hold true in the great state of Nebraska.
We believe the current landscape for civil asset forfeiture laws can lead to abuse and that too many innocent people are being caught up in forfeiture seizures. We examined personal anecdotes from forfeiture victims and data from government, law enforcement, and non-profit organizations and we found many troubling trends and practices. Our research has also identified several promising policy reform solutions tested in other jurisdictions that could be beneficial for consideration in Nebraska.