Forfeiture Endangers American Rights

Forfeiture Publications

F.E.A.R. Chronicles newsletter
volume 2 number 1 (November 1993)

California Forfeiture Law Sunsets: Prosecutors Try to Expand Forfeitures But Must Forfeit Present Law intro by Judy Osburn, reprinting article from Georgetown Gazette, by Tom Daly

It is easy for police and prosecutors on salaried time, using tax supported transportation and communication, to lobby diligently for expanded forfeiture laws. In addition to other horrors, California's SB 1158 would have allowed law enforcement to go back 10 years in seeking a basis for forfeiting property. This time, however, the state legislature also heard testimony from forfeiture victims, real estate associations, chambers of commerce and F.E.A.R. activists.

Changes to Forfeiture Laws

by Tom Daly, is reprinted from the September 21 edition of the Georgetown Gazette:

On Thursday, September 9, it appeared that Senator Ken Maddy's SB 1158 was dead in the water as California Legislators rushed to pass hundreds of last minute bills before the midnight, September 10 dead line. If it had been enacted, SB 1158 would have given law enforcement and prosecutors a great deal more power in their quest to seize and forfeit assets from California's citizens.

Several weeks ago any prosecutor in the state would have bet Maddy's bill would pass. This was because the law enforcement lobby had covered every base in Sacramento and laid the pressure on hot and heavy because their budgets depended on the continuation of being able to use forfeited assets. They wanted Maddy's bill because it would have made seizing assets easier and the law would have become permanent.

There was also Assemblyman John Burton's AB114 floating around and as the time for passage of new legislation loomed near, that bill, with some control on law enforcement built in, appeared to gain ground in the legislature.

During that last critical week, Maddy and Burton attempted to blend their bills together to come up with something they could sell to their fellow legislators. Attorney General Dan Lungren, the real sponsor of Maddy's bill, was tearing his hair out as he saw chink after chink develop in his law enforcement lobby' armor. Papers like the Gazette became more and more critical at the seizure and forfeiture process. TV stations picked up on the subject as well and ran some hard-hitting spots questioning how this money was raised and how it was being spent.

Along with several people representing FEAR (Forfeiture Endangers American Rights) I spent most of the day on Tuesday, September 7, at the State Capitol. I delivered copies of the September 7 Gazette to key leaders and committee people and we hand delivered a letter questioning forfeiture to every senator and assemblyperson. Additionally we met with Assemblyman John Burton who was obviously upset by the pressure being put upon him from all sides regarding forfeiture. I left.the Capitol with the feeling that Maddy's bill may go down in flames, but I was pretty sure that a watered down version of Burton's AB114 would survive.

0n Saturday morning, September 11, I learned that the legislature had failed to enact either Maddy or Button. Looking back, I know that FEAR had a lot to do with influencing the ultimate outcome on this decisive issue. By not enacting new legislation, the legislature is allowing laws passed in 1989 to sunset, taking the seizure and forfeiture procedure back to laws that were in place in 1988. These laws, which will become re-operative on January 1, 1994, will make it more difficult for law enforcement to seize and forfeit assets.

I did a quick analysis of the existing law and the old 1988 law and the major changes are:

l. Computers, programs and software will no longer be forfeitable.

2. Arms or weapons will no longer be forfeitable.

3. Quantities of most substances necessary to trigger a possible forfeiture case will be doubled. An example being the quantity of marijuana will increase from five pounds to ten pounds.

4. Certain vehicles will no longer be forfeitable.

5. Licensed businesses will no longer be forfeitable

6. Real property can only be taken if a person is convicted of certain violations.

7. Most forfeitures will only be allowed after a conviction has been obtained.

8. The prosecution will now have to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that a forfeitable violation occurred. The existing law allows forfeiture using proof bearing a "preponderance of evidence." The difference is a "preponderance of evidence" is roughly equal to proof of fifty percent plus one that a defendant may have committed the alleged violation. "Beyond a reasonable doubt" is roughly equal to one hundred percent proof that a defendant committed the alleged violation. The difference is huge and it will stop much of the abuse of these laws by law enforcement who may be to anxious to get their hands on your money.

9. In cases involving cash or other negotiable instruments valued at more than $25,000, the prosecution can forfeit with "clear and convincing evidence." This type of evidence is somewhere between a "preponderance of evidence" and "beyond a reasonable doubt."

10. Landlords will have greater protection from losing property rented to people accused of forfeitable crimes.

11. If forfeiture is attempted, it must be tried by the same jury or court who tries the criminal offense which led to the forfeiture action.

12. The distribution of assets after forfeiture will be changed. The lead agency(s) share will be cut from eighty-five percent to sixty-five percent of the proceeds. The prosecuting agency's dividend (DA) will be cut from fifteen percent to ten percent of the proceeds. Twenty percent will now go into the General Fund and five percent will be disbursed to certain eligible nonprofit organizations. None of this means that we are out of the woods on asset forfeiture. It will still be legal, but substantial evidence will be required for a prosecutor to prove his/her case. There are numerous safeguards reestablished for innocent victims of forfeiture laws. And, of primary concern, there still exists Federal forfeiture laws which local law enforcement may use in lieu of State laws.

Fortunately, there is currently much discussion going on in Washington on the subject and I have a hunch that the legislators in Washington don't like seizure and forfeiture any better than their counterparts in Sacramento. As reported in the Gazette last month, Congressman John Doolittle recently jumped on the anti-forfeiture bandwagon and I am happy to have played a part in his decision to do so. The failure of law enforcement to force the legislature into adopting new and more repressive forfeiture laws bodes well upon the future of this state. Somehow we have quietly become a police state, but cooler heads may soon prevail. In every other country where a police stale came into power, it happened because of a revolution or a coup, but here we did it simply by passing repressive laws. Hopefully we are witnessing the tip of the iceberg in judicial reform which will lead us away from the police state attitude which now prevails.

U.S. Representative John Conyers Introduces Comprehensive Forfeiture Reform Bill

by Judy Osburn

John Conyers announced his intention to reform federal forfeiture statutes stating: "A law designed to give cops the right to confiscate and keep the luxury possessions of major drug dealers mostly ensnares the modest homes, cars and hard-earned cash of ordinary, law-abiding people. This was not the way it was supposed to work."

Conyers fulfilled his promise to introduce comprehensive reform on October 22. The Asset Forfeiture Justice Act (HR 3347), like Henry Hyde's bill, provides for appointment of counsel for those who cannot afford representation; abolishes cost bonds; extends claimants' filing deadline from 10 to 60 days; and allows claimants to sue the government for damages caused by negligent handling of property in its custody.

In addition, Conyers' bill addresses a host of other problems built into civil forfeiture law. First, it requires that a property owner be convicted of the crime upon which the forfeiture is based before property may by forfeited.

The bill abolishes in rem (against a thing) forfeiture proceedings. Rather, forfeiture actions must be in personam (against a person), thereby extending constitutional due process protections to property owners.

The bill specifies the right to jury trial in all forfeiture cases. An adversarial hearing prior to seizure is another due process requirement the bill codifies. At this preliminary hearing the government must show there is cause to believe the property is subject to forfeiture, and that a substantial probability exits that failure to seize the property pending trial would result in the property being destroyed, removed or otherwise made unavailable. The government must also show that its need to preserve the property outweighs the resulting hardship to any claimant.

The bill contains some exceptions (detailed below) to the pre-seizure hearing requirement. In those exempted cases a hearing in which the claimants have an opportunity be heard is required immediately after seizure. If the seizure order is denied by the court the property must immediately be returned to claimants.

HR 3347 requires proportionality and a substantial connection between the property and the offense in drug related cases. It prohibits forfeiture of property valued at more than the financial gain derived from, or loss caused by the drug violation. Also, conveyances and real property would be subject to drug related seizure only if they were either purchased with illegal proceeds or if the property was primarily used to facilitate a drug violation. (The bill substitutes "primarily used" for the present phrase "used, or intended to be used, in any manner or part.") And, only those parts of real estate that are actually used in the offense would be forfeitable, rather than the entire estate.

It designates at least 50% of all forfeited proceeds to be used for community based crime prevention programs, drug treatment and education. No more than 10% may be spent on administrative costs. And all forfeiture proceeds transferred to local agencies shall go directly to state treasuries to be distributed according to state law. This will eliminate the financial incentive that distorts law enforcement goals (the "Sheriff of Nottingham Syndrome"), yet allows police to be funded with forfeiture revenues.

It provides that low value real estate that is forfeited on the basis of drug violations be made available for a nominal fee to tax-exempt community-based crime control, housing, or educational organizations.

The bill also limits forfeiture "adoptions" by prohibiting state agencies from transferring drug-related forfeiture cases to the federal government for the purpose evading local laws which limit the use or disposal of forfeiture proceeds. And, because drug-related forfeitures will require a federal conviction of the property owner, it will no longer be possible to transfer a forfeiture based upon State health and safety code violations to the federal courts.

The bill exempts property from forfeiture that has been either paid or pledged as payment for attorney fees.

It requires notice be sent to owners and lienholders within 60 days of seizure.

It establishes reporting requirements regarding the circumstances of each seizure, including the race, national origin, gender and age of the owners of seized property. It also requires accountability for forfeiture proceeds distributed by States, as well as an annual report to Congress by the Attorney General detailing administrative and contracted costs.

It limits the total payments to individual informants to $250,000 per year.

It abolishes the "relation-back doctrine" which presently gives title to the government at the moment property is involved in criminal activity, thereby jeopardizing the property rights of lien holders and subsequent purchasers. The bill vests right, title and interest to the government only after a verdict in the government's favor.

It requires property be returned to owners immediately after a judgment is entered in favor of the claimants, or within one year following seizure if no court action is filed by the government.

It prohibits any forfeiture action from being commenced more than one year after the date of the offense, unless a stay pending related criminal proceedings is granted. In the latter case the forfeiture action must commence within a year after completion of the criminal proceedings.

The bill expands federal forfeiture law in one area. It adds a provision that makes any firearm used or intended to be used to facilitate a drug crime forfeitable.

It also gives law enforcement the power to seize property without a court order by exempting seizures that are "incident to an arrest or a search under a search warrant" from the pre-seizure hearing requirement. Other exemptions include: property that has been previously awarded to the United States; cases in which there is probable cause to believe the property is dangerous to public health; or when there is probable cause to believe the delay caused by the need to obtain a court order would frustrate the seizure. Still, owners of property exempted from a pre-seizure hearing must be given an opportunity for a prompt hearing, and the property must be immediately returned if the government fails to obtain a seizure order at that hearing.

Some of the bill's reforms apply to all federal civil forfeiture proceedings, while other changes apply only to drug related forfeitures. This is because present civil forfeiture laws are scavenged from admiralty law. The various forfeiture statutes refer back to Customs regulations designed to enforce the collection of import duties. Procedural changes such as notices, filing deadlines, placement of the burden of proof and most other due process reforms, as well as property maintenance and disposition regulations are codified in the Customs provisions upon which federal civil (in rem ) forfeiture actions are based.

However, some reforms, such as the requirement of proportionality between the forfeiture and the offense, as well as other limitations on what property is subject to forfeiture, must be codified into each forfeiture statute. The bill injects these reforms by amending the Controlled Substances ActÄby far the most widely used and abused forfeiture statutes.

Most of Conyers' reforms are procedural and apply to civil forfeitures in general. The requirement of a criminal conviction of the owner prior to seizure and, most importantly, the elimination of in rem forfeiture proceedings will extend to property owners all the protections provided by the Constitution. Additionally, the proportionality amendments to the Controlled Substances Act will give courts a guideline for applying the Eighth Amendment to individual non-drug related forfeiture cases. Passage of the Asset Forfeiture Justice Act, HR 3347, will make clear Congress' intent to limit forfeitures to property which is substantially connected to the crime and is valued at or below the value of the property involved in the offense.


Write your congressperson! Urge him or her to co-sponsor HR 3347, the Asset Forfeiture Justice Act. The introduction of this urgently needed reform legislation is tremendously exciting. Yet before this bill can be enacted we will have to overcome fierce opposition from those who feed at the 3 billion dollar forfeiture trough. We must generate a groundswell of personal lobbying for HR 3347 right away. The opportunity to change federal law is here. Your letters are needed now more than ever before.

Also contact both your senators and ask if a companion bill to HR 3347 has been introduced in the Senate, and if not, will they do so.

Address letters in support of HR 3347 to:

Rep. (your Congressperson)
House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Address letters in support of companion legislation for HR 3347 to:

Senator (your Senator)
U.S. Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Police Documents Show Forfeitures In Michigan Resemble Curbside Shakedowns

by Tom Flook

According to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Michigan Association for Preservation of Property (M.A.P.P.), during 1992 law enforcement agencies in Michigan used civil forfeiture 9,770 times to confiscate an average of $1,434 per seizure . (Seizures between January 1 and December 31 totaled $14,007,227; up from $11,848,547 in 1991.) These include:

54 homes (up from 29 homes in 1991) with an average reported value of $15,881.

807 cars with an average reported value of $1,412.

$9,225,515 in cash and negotiable instruments. An average value cannot be calculated because most agencies do not itemize cash seizures.

$2,754,818 of personal property. An average value cannot be calculated because most agencies do not itemize personal property seizures.

Combined, there were 8909 reported cash and personal property seizures, with an average value of $1,348 per seizure. These non-itemized seizures netted Michigan law enforcement agencies over $12 million.

In 1991, the Michigan Office of Drug Control Policy stated that many forfeitures are not contested because owners, "often have no legitimate source of income high enough to have legally obtained the property seized." However, the documents obtained by M.A.P.P. demonstrate that, in actuality, most civil forfeitures are not contested because the value of the seized property is not high enough to justify the minimum $5,000 to $10,000 cost of fighting a civil forfeiture.

There is no way of knowing how many uncontested seizures were never reported because there are no accountability requirements built into civil forfeiture

Of the 123 agencies reporting civil forfeiture activity, only Muskegon Police Narcotics Department presented anything resembling a comprehensive account. It is the only agency that reported the amount of drugs seized or the number of arrests made. No agency made any mention of convictions obtained.

Muskegon police performed 82 seizures, netting $63,126. The average value was $770. They seized:

18 cars worth $7,250, or an average value of $402.

1 home with a reported value of $6,200.

16 bundles of personal property worth a reported value of $18,176, for an average of $1,136 per occurrence. Only 4 bundles were worth more than the average.

72 seizures of cash and negotiable instruments totaling $31,199, for an average amount of $433. Only 5 of the seizures were for more than $1,000.

As in the statewide statistics, we're talking real drug kingpin stuff here

Though agencies continue to suggest that civil forfeitures target the estates, yachts, and cash hordes of "drug kingpins," obviously, most civil forfeitures in Michigan are not much more than curb side shakedowns.

Editor's note:

Thank-you, Tom, for uncovering the statistics from your state which prove the truth many suspected. We encourage readers to obtain reports regarding assets seized from citizens in their states, cities and counties. Please send results to: Judy Osburn, Star Rt. 1 Box 165, Maricopa, CA 93252.

Missouri State Reform Victory

by Richard Lawrence Miller

In its 1993 regular session the Missouri legislature enacted two key forfeiture reforms: property cannot be seized unless the owner is convicted of a felony, and law enforcement agencies cannot keep the proceeds. These reforms, along with others contained in House Bill 562 and Senate Bill 180, will eliminate classic forfeiture abuses. The bills also provide that "rights of an innocent owner of property are superior to any right or claim of the state or county."

State senator Wayne Goode (D., Saint Louis) became alarmed by home town newspaper stories about abuses and introduced reform legislation last year. That effort became ensnared in a larger revision of criminal statutes, and legislative maneuvering kept the whole package from coming to a vote. Nonetheless, Goode persevered and this year the legislature not only enacted, but strengthened the reforms that Goode initially proposed.

The reforms forbid forfeiture unless the property owner is convicted of, or pleads guilty to a felony "substantially related" to the forfeiture. For example, local drug squads can no longer acquire an expensive car if a fleck of marijuana is found under a floor mat.

Police and prosecutors are now forbidden to use forfeitures as part of a plea bargain, and cannot accept "any monetary payment or other thing of value in exchange for the release of property seized." A court must certify that those conditions have been met in every forfeiture case involving a plea bargain, and in every forfeiture compromise or settlement.

This means state and local authorities can no longer use forfeiture as a hammer to get a guilty plea. Nor can they extort money from property owners in order to release seized property, while hiding settlement terms from courts (and therefore from the public).

Under the Missouri House bill, if law enforcement authorities meet all standards and complete a forfeiture, then those agencies keep the proceeds of the forfeiture. On the other hand, the Missouri Senate bill mandates that forfeiture proceeds go to public schools.

The Missouri Constitution directs all forfeiture proceeds to public schools. Previous litigation of this issue has determined that schools must get the money as the Constitution commands. Therefore chances are very good that the Senate version will take precedence over the conflicting provision of the House bill, and state and local law enforcement agencies will no longer receive any financial gain from forfeitures.

In addition, state and local authorities may not "adopt out" forfeitures to federal agencies without approval by a state circuit judge. Such approval cannot be given unless the property owner is charged with a state or federal felony and the "investigation or seizure" involves interstate activity or "would be better pursued under federal forfeiture statutes."

The latter "federal forfeiture statutes" exemption is a potential mischievous loophole. However, Dan Viets (president-elect of the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers) believes that circuit judges will follow the reform's spirit, and will not approve adoptions without good cause.

Still another possibility of evasion is thwarted by the following provision: "Any property seized by state or local peace or reserve officers who are detached to, deputized or commissioned by or working in conjunction with the federal agency shall remain subject to the provisions of this section." Thus a town constable's possession of a federal "chicken inspector" badge cannot transform a local or state forfeiture into a federal one.

Missouri's legislature is hardly on the cutting edge of innovation in criminal law reform. The success of this significant forfeiture reform demonstrates the importance of news media publicity, and the value of a persistent legislator committed to the issue.

There seemed to be no passionate interest in issue at the statehouse. A majority of legislators simply saw the reforms as common sense. If such major reform can be achieved in Missouri, it can be achieved in many other states. If activists elsewhere tell their legislators about the facts of the situation in their own states, progress can be achieved.

Editor's note:

Richard lives in Kansas City and is the author of The Case for Legalizing Drugs, published by Praeger, available at book stores.

U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde's Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 1993 by Judy Osburn

"Civil asset seizure laws are being used in terribly unjust ways, are depriving innocent citizens of their property with nothing that can be called due process." U.S. Representative Henry Hyde (R., Illinois) added: "This is wrong, and it must be changed," as he introduced HR 2417 on June 15.

Hyde voiced his support of civil asset forfeiture and the "delicious irony" of funding the war on drugs with forfeited cash and proceeds "from the sale of cars and boats and homes used by drug traffickers." "However," he continued, "we cannot continue to unjustly take assets from [innocent] property owners unlucky enough to be caught up in civil forfeiture proceedings. Nothing less than the sanctity of private property is at stake here."

Congressman Hyde described the "Kafkaesque" world of civil asset forfeiture where exiting a plane either in the front, middle or rear of the crowd qualifies one as fitting a drug profile and the forfeiture of any cash in one's possession. He cited numerous examples of forfeiture abuse. "All the government need show to justify a seizure is probable cause that the property is subject to forfeiture. Probable cause can be provided by hearsay and innuendo, evidence of insufficient reliability to be admissible in a court of law. Then you must prove that the property is 'innocent.' In essence, the According to Representative Hyde the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act proposes seven "common sense changes" aimed at curbing "the rising tide of abuse now surfacing across the country:"

1) It places the burden of proof upon the government. The government would have to prove by clear and convincing evidence that property is subject to forfeiture.

Though the standard of probable cause for the initial seizure remains the same as under current law, requiring the government to prove its case means that hearsay and speculation will no longer suffice for the government to dispossess property owners at trial. At present claimants must present admissible evidence to refute the government's much lower standard of probable cause.

The briefing paper for the bill states that under the new burden of having to prove their case the government would also be required to prove there is a sufficient nexus between the property and the unlawful act. (Some judicial districts require a substantial connection between the property and the illegal action upon which the forfeiture is based. For example, the Eighth Circuit denied forfeiture of a truck observed upon one occasion being used to visit and tend a marijuana crop. There is no standard definition of what constitutes a substantial nexus, and some districts reject the requirement entirely.) However, there is nothing in the proposed amendments contained in HR2417 that addresses the issue of forfeiting property that is merely incidentally or fortuitously connected to the illegal action.

2) It provides for the appointment of counsel for claimants who are financially unable to obtain representation. Compensation to the attorney would be equivalent to that provided to appointed counsel in federal felony cases: $3,500 per attorney for representation at the district court and $2,500 per attorney at the appellate court. Appointed attorney fees would be paid from the Justice Assets Forfeiture Fund.

3) It makes clear that real estate owners who had knowledge of drug law violations occurring on their property can get their property back if they have taken reasonable steps to prevent others from using their property for drug transactions.

Present drug related forfeiture law provides exemption from forfeiture for innocent owners of money, conveyances or real property used in a drug crime if the violation was committed "without the knowledge or consent of that owner." Some courts have interpreted this to mean that owners must prove both a lack of consent and a lack of knowledge. Under present law, it is possible to lose your property to the government merely because you reported to the police your suspicion that a tenant may be trafficking drugs.

HR 2417 amends the language in 21 USC $ 881(a)(7), the real estate provision of the Controlled Substances Act, to exempt property from forfeiture that is used for illegal purposes "either without the knowledge of that owner or without the consent of that owner." However, the bill does not change the same ambiguous "without knowledge or consent" wording in the proceeds and conveyance provisions, nor does it address the hundreds of federal forfeiture statutes that provide no protection for innocent owners whatsoever.

4) It abolishes the cost bond requirement. Currently owners of property valued at less than $100,000 must post a bond up to 10 percent of the value of the property. As the briefing paper for HR 2417 points out, the requirement is unconstitutional as applied to indigent claimants and serves little purpose in other cases. The briefing paper quotes an August 1992 letter from Attorney David Smith to Ms. Kathleen Clark, Senate Judiciary Committee: "Currently, over 80% of federal forfeiture statutes are not being contested. One reason why so many forfeitures are not contested is the high cost of retaining counsel to defend a forfeiture action. The cost bond requirement is simply another financial burden on the claimant and an added deterrent to contesting the forfeiture."

5) It extends the time period a property owner has to contest the forfeiture from 10 days from the time of seizure to 60 days from the date of the first publication of the notice of seizure.

One of the ironies of present law is that local rules often require that notice of seizure and intent to forfeit be published for three consecutive weeksÄthe third and possibly the second notice to appear after the deadline for filing a claim has already passed.

6) It allows prevailing claimants to sue the federal government for negligence resulting in damage to property held in the government's custody. Currently the federal government is exempt from liability for damage caused by negligent handling or storage.

Property detained while awaiting forfeiture is often so deteriorated there is little value left by the time a judgment is rendered. Lack of care and inadequate storage are common, and sometimes property is stripped of equipment or vandalized by law enforcement. Hyde's press release cited the example of Jacksonville University professor Craig Klein, whose new $24,000 sailboat was damaged beyond repair in a fruitless seven hour search by U.S. Customs Agents. The interior woodwork was ripped out, the engine destroyed with a fire axe, the fuel tank was ruptured and 30 holes were drilled in the hull, many below the water line.

7) It provides for the return of property pending final disposition if continued possession by the government would cause substantial hardship to the claimant. This provision specifies the court may place conditions upon the release of the property in order to preserve its availability for forfeiture.

Presently customs law allows for the release of property only upon payment of a bond in the full amount of the value of the property. The briefing paper for the bill notes that property owners often must settle with the government for a sum of money even when the government's case is extremely weak, simply to avoid the hardship caused by not having their property for the time necessary to win a victory in court.

In 1989 the Second Circuit ruled that seizure of a home prior to the opportunity for the owner to be heard in court is an unconstitutional violation of due process. However, the court forfeited the home in the case anyway, saying the unconstitutional seizure merely precluded any evidence obtained from the illegal police action from being introduced at trial. The court did not suggest a means of preventing the routine practice of seizing homes prior to an adversarial hearing. The exclusion of evidence resulting from the illegal seizure is no deterrent at all since it is highly unusual for the seizing agency to stumble upon evidence of a felony during the formalities of taking control and possession of a home away from the owner.

Even with HR 2417's proposed amendments owners may still be deprived of their property for 10 days while they appeal to the seizing agency for its release. Then the owner must file a complaint with the court and wait up to another 30 days for thecourt to make a decision. Thus owners may be deprived of their means of livelihood for over 40 days before the court rules that continued possession by the government would cause them a substantial hardship. And the bill would provide no protection at all from this constitutional violation to property owners who cannot demonstrate substantial hardship.

Both the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) support HR 2417 as an important first step in forfeiture reform.

According to ACLU President Nadine Strossen, "The ACLU believes that all civil forfeiture schemes inherently violate fundamental constitutional rights, including the right not to be deprived of property without due process of law and the right to be free from punishment that is disproportionate to the offense. Our ultimate goal, therefore, is the abandonment of all civil forfeitures.

"While it certainly does not go that far, Congressman Hyde's bill does take an important first step in the right direction."

NACDL President Nancy Hollander commended Representative Hyde: "Your bill is the first piece of legislation to deal with this issue. We commend you for taking such a substantial first step toward correcting problems that unfairly affect so many of our citizens."