Following budget cuts in the recent spending bill approved by Congress, the Department of Justice has suspended its controversial asset forfeiture "equitable sharing" program. The program has made headlines in recent years due to accusations that law enforcement is motivated more by profit than by an actual desire to impede crime, as well as concerns about a lack of due process.
Civil forfeiture is a contentious legal process that allows law enforcement to seize assets from persons suspected of involvement in criminal activity, without requiring that the individuals even be charged with a crime. In these civil proceedings, the government is the plaintiff, and the seized property is the defendant. For example, a hypothetical case might be styled United States of America v. $100,000 in U.S. Currency. Since the proceedings are civil, rather than criminal, the government has a much lower burden of proof. Many times, the owners of the property do not have access to the funds necessary to mount a legal defense of the property.