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“Civil Forfeiture Laws And The Continued Assault On Private Property”

Critics include citizens, defense attorneys, and advocates for civil rights.[11] They point to serious instances of abuse in which innocent owners have been victimized.[38] Critics are from both sides of the political spectrum, from left-leaning groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and right-leaning groups such as The Heritage Foundation.[13] The main criticisms of civil forfeiture proceedings are as follows:

  • Flawed judicial process. Critics suggest that civil forfeitures are mostly “devoid of due process”.[28] Arguments have been made that the seizures violate the Due Process Clause of the Constitution since owners have few means to challenge the seizures.[46] They see some seizures as assaults against individual rights.[27] Critics argue that criminals are treated better in the courts than innocent owners who have property seized, since criminals are often told they have a right to an attorney, and that the beyond a reasonable doubt standard of proof is much higher in criminal trials than in civil trials.[28] Burden of proof is shifted to victims to prove innocence.[6] Victims of civil forfeiture are considered guilty until proven innocent, thereby turning the principle of innocent until proven guilty on its head.[10][27][28] Because it is part of the civil justice system, there are no attorneys provided for defendants as can happen in some criminal trials; people who can not afford an attorney have slim chances of recovering their property.[10] Most cases are never heard by a jury or judge since victims are unable to fight the seizures by hiring a lawyer.[27] In contrast to principles of open justice, seizures are often done through sealed documents with a lack of transparency.[38] Clinical law professor Louis Rulli of the University of Pennsylvania said that a piece of property does not have the same rights as a human: no right to an attorney, no presumption of innocence.[7]