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Criminal & Civil Asset Forfeiture

March 1, 2022
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Jill Barnas

Executive Summary

Criminal and civil asset forfeiture is the seizure of assets that are connected to a crime or suspected to be associated with criminal activity. Seized assets can be returned, transferred to a federal agency, or diverted to other state funds. Asset forfeiture was intended to reduce crime by reducing the financial gains associated with crime (e.g., profits from selling illegal drugs) under the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 (CCCA). However, financial incentives created within the forfeiture laws may have potentially altered police incentives by allowing seized assets to fund law enforcement expenses in some states. In recent years, numerous states have reformed asset forfeiture legislation. Filed in the 2022 legislative session, Missouri HB 1613 prevents the transfer of seized assets to federal agencies.  

Highlights

  • Research investigating the effects of the CCCA reported a 17% reduction in nonviolent crimes from 1984 to 1992 and a 37% increase in drug-related arrests from 1989 to 1992.
    • There was a 22% increase in traffic fatalities, suggesting efforts were reallocated from traffic safety enforcement to drug enforcement.
  • In 2021, the total property (overall dollar value) seized in Missouri was $5,353,274; this is a 41.2% reduction in the overall dollar value of property seized in 2018 ($9,102,717). 
    • The forfeiture amount varies dramatically between counties.
  • Eight states and Washington, D.C. have enacted varying legislation to block local agencies from transferring seized property to federal agencies.

Limitations

  • Missouri law requires reporting of forfeitures to the state in each calendar year, but pending dispositions at the year's end will not appear in future reports. Therefore, asset forfeiture reports may underrepresent the total forfeitures each year. 
    • In 2021, 47.5% of forfeitures were pending transference or no transference was conveyed.
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