Letter from Sen. Merkley regarding asset forfeiture:
(What kind of response would I get from a senator in a red state? “We’ll look into it” and probably not much else.)
Thank you for contacting me to share your concerns about civil asset forfeiture. I share your concerns and appreciate knowing your opinion on this topic.
I have heard concerns from Oregonians about civil asset forfeiture. As you know, civil asset forfeiture is a legal process where federal, state, or local law enforcement seize personal or real property based on a belief that the property was involved in a crime or was obtained through criminal activity, even if the owner had no idea that the property was being used to commit, or was the proceeds of, a crime.
Unlike in a criminal case, where the government has to prove that someone is guilty “beyond reasonable doubt,” the government’s burden is much lower with property and may take property even if the owner is never convicted of a crime.
Most states have their own civil asset forfeiture laws, some of which are more protective of people than federal policies. However, a loophole in federal civil forfeiture laws allowed local law enforcement to circumvent their state forfeiture laws by partnering with a federal agency through the process of “equitable sharing.”
In January, then-Attorney General Eric Holder all but ended one of the more troubling parts of the equitable sharing program that had allowed state or local law enforcement, acting alone, to seize property under Federal law and keep 80 percent of the proceeds of the seized property.
I believe that civil asset forfeiture policies need to be reformed. Allowing law enforcement agencies to seize forfeited property when the owner may not have done anything wrong violates our basic sense of justice. Please know that my staff and I are looking into the practice of civil asset forfeiture and ways to reform the practice.
Thank you again for contacting me. I hope you will continue to share your opinions with me on matters that are important to you.
All my best,
Jeffrey A. Merkley
United States Senator