NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Under federal civil forfeiture laws, law enforcement agencies can seize property involved in criminal activity. Of late, civil forfeiture has increased as a hot topic, with a hue and cry being raised in many quarters about this law enforcement tool which has serious implications for the budding marijuana industry. The criticism is bipartisan.
Contrary to claims of the opponents of civil forfeiture the police cannot unilaterally take property without notice or without the burden of proof. Since it is a civil procedure against property, not a person, there need not be a criminal conviction. It is this aspect some find objectionable especially those who want drugs like marijuana legalized. If the Justice Department starts enforcing the law many marijuana businesses could see their property seized, therefore many opponents are involved in the medical marijuana trade or in recreational marijuana.
The controversy has reached the halls of Congress. Senator Rand Paul (R.-Ky.) and Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) introduced legislation on January 27 called the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act of 2015. This bill will change current federal civil forfeiture law. For example, they want to change the legal standard of proof from “a preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.”
Meanwhile, President Obama’s Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch is getting a closer look because of a civil forfeiture case conducted by her office against a small business owner. The case occurred when she was the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Her office has been described by critics as a “major forfeiture operation.”