News Release ~ 06/22/1995

Civil Forfeiture Laws Trash the Constitution

Chairman Hyde Advances Reforms

Washington, DC (June 22, 1995) -- "A worse example of police state tactics would be hard to find. Civil forfeiture laws have perverted law enforcement agencies by allowing them summarily to seize property from innocent citizens and corporations," National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) President Gerald H. Goldstein, of San Antonio, said today.

Goldstein praised House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-IL) for reintroducing legislation that would make the federal civil forfeiture laws less susceptible to abuse. "Today's federal forfeiture laws are inimical to basic values that America stands for -- they trash the Constitution. The Hyde bill is a constructive step that would remedy some of the most egregious abuses," Goldstein said.

NACDL Forfeiture Abuse Task Force Co-Chair David B. Smith, of Alexandria, Virginia, emphasized the need to protect the rights of innocent citizens against government overreaching through forfeiture:

"The Hyde bill changes the burden of proof, clarifies the definition of an "innocent owner," eliminates the cost bond requirement, sets a reasonable time period for property owners to challenge forfeitures, and permits appointment of counsel to represent indigent claimants. It will provide greater fairness and due process in the otherwise Byzantine procedural labyrinth -- inherited from Draconian customs laws -- that often overwhelms innocent forfeiture victims," Smith commented.

NACDL has twice testified to Congress about specific abuses perpetrated under civil forfeiture laws and worked with Chairman Hyde in drafting the bill he introduced during the 103rd Congress.

NACDL's Legislative Policy Paper, "'Civil' Forfeiture Reforms Needed," is attached. Copies of congressional testimony and other background materials on civil forfeiture are available on request.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's approximately 10,000 direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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