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Study challenges police claims about asset forfeiture

Despite its extensive promotion by law enforcement agencies in Kentucky and across the country, asset forfeiture may do little to promote crime-solving. One study conducted by the Institute for Justice examined laws regarding civil asset forfeiture and the distribution of federal funds collected through the Department of Justice. Asset forfeiture allows law enforcement agencies to seize property that they allege is connected to the commission of a crime. Claimed to be a vital tool in fighting drug trafficking, the use of the practice escalated dramatically in the 1980s with the "war on drugs."

However, many lawyers and rights groups harshly criticize civil asset forfeiture. They point out that law enforcement agencies can seize homes, cars and even cash without a criminal conviction or even criminal charges against the owners. In addition, they say that some police departments use asset forfeiture as a way to raise revenue rather than as a tool to fight crime. The study's data could back up that assertion. Researchers noted that a 1% increase in local unemployment was tied to a 9% increase in forfeiture rates in the same area.

They also said that statistics did not indicate any drop in drug use in areas that received more funding from the proceeds of asset forfeiture. They also noted that increased funding did little to help police fight crime. In most cases, the proceeds from forfeited property are shared between police agencies and prosecutor offices. Many advocates are seeking elevated restrictions on the use of asset forfeiture by law enforcement agencies, saying innocent property owners have limited access to justice.

In many cases, asset forfeiture involves everyday people and relatively small sums rather than the proceeds from major drug deals. People who are facing a forfeiture case or have been accused of drug charges may opt to work with a criminal defense attorney to protect their rights.

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