What is civil asset forfeiture?
Civil asset forfeiture is a legal mechanism allows law enforcement agencies to confiscate and keep property without ever charging the owner with a crime.
In Tennessee, proceeds from seizures are funneled straight back into the budgets of law enforcement agencies. In turn, law enforcement agencies rely on this practice to fund their operations.
State law doesn’t require law enforcement agencies to report on their use of asset forfeiture, but figures provided by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security show that agencies forfeited almost $86 million in seized cash from 2009 to 2014, not including vehicles, boats, and other items. Tennessee law enforcement agencies also received $69 million from the U.S. Department of Justice in seized asset proceeds between 2010 and 2013, most stemming from joint task forces and investigations, according to an Institute for Justice report, “Policing for Profit.”
The Institute for Justice report gives Tennessee a “D-” for its asset forfeiture laws.
“Tennessee has appalling civil asset forfeiture laws,” the report states, pointing out that Tennessee laws:
- Set a low bar for forfeiture without a conviction required.
- Provide limited protections for innocent third-party property owners.
- Sent as much as 100 percent of proceeds directly to law enforcement budgets.
How does civil asset forfeiture relate to rape?
PERL’s position is that civil asset forfeiture incentivizes law enforcement to focus on revenue-generating offenses like drug crimes at the expense of violent crimes like rape.
In the coming year, we will form local coalitions to address this issue at the state level. Please join us!
Learn more about civil asset forfeiture here.
Learn about recent reform efforts in Tennessee.