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Civil Asset Forfeiture: Where Does the Money Go?

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Review Volume: 27 Issue: 2 Dated: Autumn 2002 Pages: 321-329
Marian R. Williams
Date Published
9 pages

This article examines relevant Federal and State laws to determine how proceeds from civil forfeitures, primarily obtained from drug-related prosecutions, are used by the respective governments.


Both Federal and State governments have enacted laws to specify not only where forfeited money can go but also for what purposes the money may be used. At the Federal level, civil forfeitures are authorized under Section 881 of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. In 1984 the act was amended to allow proceeds from civil forfeitures to be deposited in the U.S. Treasury's General Fund. This amendment was changed in 1986 to allow Federal law enforcement agencies to keep proceeds related to the forfeiture. It also established "equitable sharing," which gives State and local agencies most of the proceeds of forfeitures (up to 80 percent) if they were involved in the enforcement action. States, if they choose, can receive substantial revenues not only from Federal forfeitures but also from their own enforcement actions under State law. Most jurisdictions allow for forfeited property to be kept for official use. An even higher number of jurisdictions (83 percent) allow for proceeds from forfeitures to be used to pay forfeiture expenses. Almost 9 out of 10 jurisdictions specify that funds from forfeitures are to be given to law enforcement agencies or are to be used for law enforcement purposes. State and Federal laws have allowed law enforcement much leeway in the use of forfeited funds; however, only a small number of States (fewer than 20 percent) use forfeiture proceeds for drug treatment or prevention, even though research has indicated that treatment and education may be more successful in reducing drug-related crime than law enforcement efforts. Coupled with the lowered due process protections in civil forfeiture procedures, law enforcement agencies have a strong incentive to promote the "war on drugs" as a means of meeting budget demands through forfeitures, even though evidence of the effectiveness of this "war" is lacking. A table shows a State-by-State disposition of funds from forfeitures by type of disposition. 22 references


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