Asset forfeiture is a serious civil liberties concern for many people in Kentucky, especially as it is a form of punishment that can be applied despite the absence of a criminal conviction or even criminal charges in some cases. The policy, which escalated in use during the “war on drugs” in the 1980s, allows law enforcement agencies to seize assets that they believe to be linked to criminal activity. While the policy is promoted with references to large-scale raids on major drug traffickers, a significant number of asset forfeiture cases involve relatively small sums being collected from people who cannot afford to lose them.
One study conducted by a libertarian-oriented law firm, the Institute for Justice, found that civil asset forfeiture has little influence on reducing drug use or increasing police effectiveness in solving crimes. The study examined the effects of funds gathered through the Department of Justice’s federal forfeiture program and shared with various local and state law enforcement agencies. They found no correlation between increased proceeds from asset forfeiture and rates of drug use. In addition, there was little connection between asset forfeiture and solving crimes other than additional money entering the police department.
Some of the study’s results did back up claims that agencies use civil asset forfeiture as a way to raise revenue regardless of the validity of the confiscation of property. Researchers noted that a 1% increase in unemployment in a particular area was correlated with a 9% increase in civil asset forfeiture in the area.
The owners of property do not need to be convicted or charged with a crime for the law enforcement agency to keep cash, homes or cars. People who have had their assets seized or who are facing drug charges might consult with a criminal defense attorney about their options to protect their rights.