Small Business Wants Checks on Law Enforcement's Power to Seize Property

Date: April 30, 2015

Washington, DC (April 29, 2015) – The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) today called on the
House and Senate Judiciary committees to take up and pass legislation protecting
private property owners from law enforcement agencies that can seize their
assets without getting clearance from a judge or accusing them of a crime.

property owners, including business owners, should not have to prove their
innocence in order to protect or retrieve their assets from government
seizure,” said NFIB Sr. House Manager
Kate Bonner

a federal program called equitable sharing, state law enforcement agencies may
keep for themselves the seized assets, including cash.  State agencies can keep up to 80 percent and
the feds get the rest.  The program is
especially attractive to state agencies whose local laws limit their possession
of seized assets.

now the agencies can seize private property without permission from a judge and
without ever accusing the suspect of a crime,” she said.  “In order to get back their property the
owners essentially must prove their innocence. 
That’s not the way our system is supposed to work.” Instead, there
should be some speed bumps between government and a private citizen’s property,
said Bonner.

Bonner cited examples of small
business owners, whose property was taken despite that fact they
were never involved in any criminal activity. 
Even worse, in some cases the owners had to spend more than the value of
the property they lost just to get it back.
In the April 2015 NFIB Federal Ballot,
92 percent of small business owners agreed that Congress should
require law enforcement to provide a judge with clear and convincing evidence
of a crime before seizing a small business’ assets. The FAIR Act would
accomplish this, while further protecting small business owners.

is calling for the passage of the FAIR Act, which would:

  • Require government agencies to prove
    to a court that a private citizen knowingly allowed his property to be used for
    criminal activity before the authorities can seize it.

  • Replace the “preponderance of
    evidence” standard, which is easy for agencies to meet, with a “clear and
    convincing evidence” standard that would require agencies to substantiate
    charges before they can seize property.

  • Ensure that private property owners
    have a right to counsel in all civil forfeiture proceedings, not just when they
    lose their home or because they’re indigent as the system currently requires.

  • Require that agencies cannot keep the
    assets they seize, but must rather turn them over to the general treasury for

a key provision,” said Bonner.  “The
profit motive is essential for the free market, but it’s very dangerous as an
incentive for government to take away money and property from private citizens.

government has a lot more power over private individuals than even the biggest
and most powerful corporations,” she continued. 
“If it has the power to enrich itself by taking away private property,
the temptation to do that without real justification will invariably lead to

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