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Highway Robbery: AKA Civil Asset Forfeiture

Did you know that in Delaware, if the police pull you over for any reason, and they find cash in your car, they can take it and keep it, even if you are not accused of a crime?

Check it out.

Did you know that to get your money back, you have to hire an attorney, and that the process is so onerous, that most people give up or settle for less than what they are owed?

money seizedDid you know that after the police take your money, they put it into a secret fund, called the Special Law Enforcement Assistance Fund, and that even though SLEAF is administered by 8 law enforcement officials, employees of the state, it is not considered a public entity, so it is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act?

Did you know how much money SLEAF took in last year and what that money was spent on? No, of course not, because they don’t have to tell you, even though you are a citizen and the government is supposed to be accountable to you.

Did you know that Delaware was the only state that refused to reveal how much money it has taken and what it was spent on for the Institute for Justice’s “Policing for Profit” report?*

seizedDid you know that this highway robbery — not sure what else to call it — goes on all over the country?

Did you know that “law enforcement took more stuff from people than burglars did last year”?

Did you know that Montana just passed a law requiring the government to get a criminal conviction before it can take your money, and that New Mexico recently became the first state to outlaw “civil forfeiture”?


* Delaware’s Law & Practices
Delaware earned average overall marks for its civil forfeiture laws and practices according to IJ’s rankings.  But Delaware scored an F for its laws alone.  The state’s final grade is pulled up to a C only by limited use of equitable sharing to date.  In Delaware, the government only needs to show probable cause to forfeit property.  If an innocent owner objects, the owner has the burden of showing that the property was wrongfully seized or not subject to forfeiture.  These problems are compounded by the fact that law enforcement in Delaware keeps 100 percent of the revenues generated by civil forfeitures, creating a perverse incentive to seize as much property as possible.  Fortunately for Delaware citizens, law enforcement in the state does not seem to have used forfeiture as aggressively as the law permits.  It is hard to know the extent of forfeiture in Delaware, though, because there is no provision under state law that requires data to be collected or reported.  For analysis of Delaware’s ranking, visit:

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