Eli5: What is civil asset forfeiture in usa?

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I just stumbled upon someone asking how much cash he can carry on himself without a risk of a police officer taking it away. Then when I scrolled through comments it sounded like a police officer can decide to take away your money and NEVER EVER give it back!

Is that actually true??? I mean, the idea that police officer can take your money if they decide you have “too much” on you is insane already. But even if so, there is no way you can’t then go to police station or something and get it back!

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25 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

The police can basically accuse your money or other property of being involved in a crime. For example that it was used in an illegal gun sale. Now it’s up to the person to prove it wasn’t and the police can spend the money if they desire.

Anonymous 0 Comments

There is a lot of misinformation on Reddit about cops in general and civil asset forfeiture specifically. Ask over on r/ProtectandServe to get answered from real cops.

Edit: And no, they can’t just decide to take your money and never give it back. It’s much more complicated than a random cop pulling you over and just taking your cash. And there are processes in place to get it bank if you can prove you got it legally (which many can’t in these situations.)

Anonymous 0 Comments

Basically, if the law thinks some part of your property(including money but also like a house or car or even ipad) was involved, will be involved, or was acquired by criminal activity then the law may take it.

This was designed to help break up suspected criminal enterprises because while they may not be able to officially charge you with a crime as not enough evidence, they can charge the property with a crime.

You can get it back but it is a long and arduous and expensive process.

This explains it better.

Anonymous 0 Comments

reddit blows this out of proportion. it’s not like police are busting people left and right and stealing their money.

yes there are edge cases of innocent people and corrupt police- but this exists everywhere.

in general if you have a legal means and can prove it they aren’t going to take your money.

i.e. if a starbucks employee is going to the bank to drop off the days earnings. runs a red light and gets pulled over. the police isn’t gonna just take that money lol.

but if you are going into a drug house that’s being monitored and get pulled over shortly after with $30k of cash in a bag- that money is likely going to be taken.

Anonymous 0 Comments

It is a ridiculous perversion of law. They can just take your property. The burden of proof is on you to prove the money was not only legitimately earned but also going to be spent legitimately. Come home with 3 hundred dollar bills. The cop gets to decide if you were getting them to put in your grandkid’s Christmas card or buy crack. Your actual experience may depend on whether your face is lighter or darker than a brown paper grocery bag.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Look at the shit this person is going through after getting his money seized while driving cross country.

[Marine Veteran Wins First Round of Lawsuit Challenging Nevada’s Civil Forfeiture Laws – Institute for Justice (ij.org)](https://ij.org/press-release/marine-veteran-wins-first-round-of-lawsuit-challenging-nevadas-civil-forfeiture-laws/)

Anonymous 0 Comments

floyd mayweather carries $1M at all times with him and nobody has taken it from him. ive never heard this before and i studied criminal justice for 2 years. but check your local municipal codes for something about it

Anonymous 0 Comments

>Is that actually true???

No, generally speaking the police can’t just take your money for no reason at all. As with everything in life, mistakes get made and laws get abused. The internet has a way of concentrating extremely rare occurrences to make them appear to be commonplace when they’re not.

Civil asset forfeiture has two uses:

1) Allowing the government to seize abandoned property. So, for example, if someone abandons a car on the side of the road, the government can take possession of that car.

2) Allowing the government to seize property that was used to commit certain crimes or was purchased with money you made from committing a crime. So, for example, if you sell drugs out of your car then the government can seize your car.

There are two main criticisms with civil asset forfeiture:

1) People used to accidentally commit a money laundering related felony and would have their bank accounts seized. When you deposit certain amounts of money in a bank, the bank has to report that deposit to the government. If you deposit under that amount of money, the bank doesn’t. Routinely depositing just under the reportable amount of money is, itself, a crime called “Structuring”.

People used to accidentally violate that law all of the time because they wrongly believed that if they deposited too much money they would get in trouble, so they would always deposit just under the limit. Their bank would then report the structuring to the IRS, who would seize their bank account.

Someone would then look into things and realize that the person whose bank account was seized wasn’t a tax evader or money launderer, but the process to unseize the account was complicated and required the cooperation of the IRS.

The IRS changed the rules regarding structuring over a decade ago so that this wouldn’t happen anymore, so the modern criticism hasn’t had a basis in reality for some time. Nonetheless, it persists on the internet.

2) People can have their property seized even though they weren’t involved with the crime that was committed. The stereotypical example of this is that you loan your car to a friend. The friend then starts selling drugs out of the car and gets caught. The friend goes to jail and the car is seized despite the fact that you, the owner, were not involved in the crime.

Obviously not everyone agrees that this is an unfair situation.


The other area that civil asset forfeiture tends to occasionally crop up in is drug mules. Not all drug mules carry drugs – some carry the cash proceeds of drug sales despite not otherwise being involved in said sales. Its not uncommon for drug mules to be caught with huge quantities of cash – tens of thousands of dollars stuffed into hidden compartments in their car.

A lot of times these cash only mules are otherwise normal people with families and respectable jobs. The government often enters into a deferred prosecution agreement with them whereby they don’t admit that the committed a crime, but agree not to challenge the forfeiture of the cash.

Sometimes a friend or family members finds out that Suzy the elementary school teacher had $50,000 taken from her by the police, but Suzy won’t talk about why. That friend/family member then goes to the media, who pick the story up. Suzy doesn’t want to say that the $50k that got pulled out of a hidden compartment in her trunk was drug money and she entered into a deferred prosecution agreement. The reporter then either doesn’t know about or doesn’t mention the real reason that the $50k got seized and the story ends up on the internet.

As with people whose property get seized because it was being used by their friend to commit a crime, a lot of people don’t feel that Suzy’s situation is particularly unjust.

Anonymous 0 Comments

I saw a video of an immigrant taxi driver losing his stack of 60k dollars to cops in a “suspicion of drug money”, even though it was just his savings from his years worth of pay.

Then the video explained, there was no real suspicion, but the money goes to the municipality and the cop department actually gets a cut of it into its own budget. And that the cops were tipped off earlier by some other security guard who saw the cash pile somehow.

The victim can request the money back, but its a long legal process and they get like 20-30% back.

Its essentially a legal way to cops steal money into their budgets. Sometimes the bankers that oversee the withdrawal of the pile of cash tip the cops out for a kickback for himself.

The USA is a fascist dystopia.

Anonymous 0 Comments

I can give the NZ example.

The cops can’t just grab your cash, they have to actually sue for it to be forfeited in court. This is generally from organised crime. The other option is if you’re convicted of something, the judge can order all the obviously seized cash and assets taken during a search warrant to be forfeit, but that has to be after a court case also.

If the cops are doing a drug search warrant and they see a lot of cash, they’re going to grab it, but it’s not forfeit until a judge says so for one of the above reasons.

They can’t take cash off you during a traffic stop and just keep it. No beat cop would ever do this anyway because it’s way above their pay grade, Organised Crime or Drug Squads would take care of that.

America may or may not have a better way of doing it.