Armstrong: Civil asset forfeiture laws require ‘drastic reform’

U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) on April 26 introduced a bipartisan bill that would restore the integrity of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States via sweeping reforms to the nation’s civil asset forfeiture laws.

“Innocent until proven guilty has little meaning if law enforcement can seize all of your assets before you ever appear in a court on a criminal charge,” Rep. Armstrong said on Tuesday. “This bill takes important steps such as ending equitable sharing and providing additional due process to protect private property from unjust seizure.”

Rep. Armstrong joined four other congressmen, including U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), as cosponsors of the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act of 2021, H.R. 2857, which is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI).

If enacted, H.R. 2857 would raise the level of proof necessary for the federal government to seize property, reform the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) structuring statute to protect innocent small business owners, and increase transparency and congressional oversight, according to a bill summary provided by Rep. Armstrong’s staff.

For instance, if the U.S. government’s theory of forfeiture is that the property was used to commit or facilitate the commission of a criminal offense, or was involved in the commission of a criminal offense, then the government would be required to establish, by clear and convincing evidence, that (A) there was a substantial connection between the property and the offense; and (B) the owner of any interest in the seized property used it with intent to facilitate the offense, “or knowingly consented or was willfully blind to the use of the property” by another in connection with the offense,” according to the text of the bill. 

“Civil asset forfeiture is an important tool, but it needs drastic reform,” Rep. Armstrong said.

H.R. 2857 has been referred to four different committees in the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration: Judiciary; Energy and Commerce; Financial Services; and Ways and Means.