Civil asset forfeiture allows law enforcement to seize a person’s money, car, or other property based on the suspicion that it has some link to criminal activity. The ACLU-NJ points out that “Even if a person is never charged with a crime, the government can still take and keep their money or belongings through this legal process.”
After analyzing civil asset forfeiture in New Jersey for the period January-May 2016, the organization has concluded the system “has proved prone to widespread abuse, but it’s also ripe for sweeping reform,” according to Liza Weisberg, one of the authors of a new report on the subject. The report found that $5.5 million was seized during the first five months of 2016.
Areas with greater minority populations tended to have a higher number of seizures.
The top ten municipalities, ranked by the amount of money seized in that period, were: Newton, $660,025; Fort Lee, $419,193; Warren, $291,187; Newark, $282,073; Union, $266,858; Jersey City, $148,627; Paterson, $145,537; Trenton, $143,309; Camden, $111,872, and Elizabeth, $93,272.
The top 10 municipalities, ranked by the number of seizures, were: Jersey City, 346; Newark, 175; Paterson, 93; Middle Township, 89; Trenton, 79; Toms River, 37; East Orange, 32; Camden, 31; Elizabeth, 31, and Union City, 21.
“We need dramatic and widespread reform of civil asset forfeiture, and ultimately, we need to end the practice altogether. Both of these things require the Legislature to act,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Dianna Houenou. “At a time when the federal government has announced plans to augment civil asset forfeiture, it’s especially important for New Jersey to begin mending the painful rifts civil asset forfeiture abuse has caused in our state, especially in communities of color,” she said.