A bipartisan group of senators this week introduced legislation to protect property owners whose assets are seized by the federal government. The DUE PROCESS Act is sponsored by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) – all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Asset forfeiture laws are important and valuable tools for law enforcement to gain control over assets used to further terrorism and the drug trade, but as we’ve seen, they can also be abused. This bill is designed to protect the rights of people whose property has been seized without any judicial finding of wrongdoing. It’s a step in the right direction to ensure that seizures happen in accordance with the law and that constitutional rights are protected,” Grassley said.
“Asset forfeiture authorities are effective tools for law enforcement, but we have seen time and again these tools are ripe for abuse. Too often Americans do not receive notice that their property was seized, or the civil seizure is never connected to any charged criminal conduct. This legislation would affirm our commitment to Americans’ most fundamental constitutional rights, ensuring that due process never takes a back seat to expediency,” Leahy said.
“Requiring Americans to prove the government took their property improperly, rather than the government proving guilt, undermines our system of justice. Commonsense restraints on civil asset forfeiture are necessary for protecting the rights of law-abiding Americans. This legislation will provide needed safeguards for those whose assets have been unjustifiably seized without due cause or conviction,” Crapo said.
“Due process is one of the pillars of our democracy. Seizing property without convicting or even charging the owners with a crime runs contrary to our principles. Our bill would ensure that property rights are respected and that law enforcement cannot abuse the tools used to combat terrorism and organized crime,” Feinstein said.
An earlier version of the bill was introduced in 2016, following a Judiciary Committee hearing that examined several concerns associated with law enforcement asset seizure policies and practices. The hearing identified gaps in procedural protections for property owners whose assets were seized despite the absence of criminal charges or convictions. Additionally, many individuals whose assets are seized don’t know their rights and don’t know how to proceed to challenge the seizure.
To address these issues, the DUE PROCESS Act:
- Creates a right to a hearing in which the court must explain to the person whose property was seized what their rights are;
- Provides that property owners challenging seizure of assets who cannot afford lawyers will have them provided;
- Extends time periods to make a challenge to property seizures;
- Codifies a new IRS practice restricting asset forfeiture in structuring cases by ensuring that forfeiture is available in structuring cases only where the failure to report large cash transfers to a bank is done in furtherance of another crime;
- Overturns a Supreme Court decision in Kaley v. United States, which concerns criminal forfeiture, where assets are frozen prior to trial in order to be subject to forfeiture upon conviction. Under the DUE PROCESS Act, defendants will be able to seek a hearing to show that assets they are using to hire an attorney of their choice that would otherwise be frozen pending trial were not derived from the proceeds of the charged criminal activities.
Legislative text of the DUE PROCESS Act is available HERE.