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FreedomWorks is proud to announce that our bill of the month for July 2019 is the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act of 2019, H.R. 1895, introduced by Reps. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.). The FAIR Act would overhaul existing civil asset forfeiture rules by raising the evidentiary standard for seizing assets and restoring the presumption of innocence to federal civil asset forfeiture hearings.
The FAIR Act is also originally co-sponsored by a politically diverse group of lawmakers including Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.). This coalition has demonstrated praiseworthy dedication to the Fifth Amendment principles.
Federal civil asset forfeiture laws are a stain on our republic. Currently, federal and state law enforcement can seize any assets they believe are in some way connected to criminal activity. The original idea behind such practices was to attack organized crime by seizing bank accounts and other assets used to commit crimes. However, in recent decades, law enforcement has taken this justifiable idea and twisted it for profit.
There are many practical and ideological issues with civil asset forfeiture, but the FAIR Act cuts right to the heart of the problem addressing the two biggest problems with abuse of the practice. As it stands, it is inexcusably difficult for an innocent individual to receive due process in civil asset forfeiture proceedings. Since civil asset forfeiture proceedings take place in civil court, rather than criminal court, no presumption of innocence exists; one of the fundamental principles of due process. Furthermore, the government must only prove the assets’ connection to criminal activity using “a preponderance of the evidence,” an incredibly low standard, rather than by the higher evidentiary standards of criminal court.
In short, if the government seizes an individual’s assets and claims that they were used for illicit activity, the cards are all stacked against the citizen. So much so that a large number of people whose assets have been wrongly seized never even attempt to recover the losses. Since the proceedings are in civil court, individuals are not provided an attorney, often meaning it would be more expensive to fight for justice than to give up on the assets.
The FAIR Act is a huge step in the right direction towards leaving civil asset forfeiture abuse to the waste bin of history. By increasing the evidentiary standard and instituting the presumption of innocence, the FAIR Act would be a major victory for the rule of law and due process in America.
It should never be easy for the government to take from its citizens, and this legislation would make it significantly more difficult, protecting the rights of the individual against the tyranny of the state. We appreciate the hard work of Rep. Walberg and Rep. Raskin and hope that other members of both chambers of Congress will wake up to this reality and support the FAIR Act, H.R. 1895.