Civil Asset Forfeiture A 5-Month Snapshot in New Jersey

A Process That Lets the Government Take People’s Property

Civil asset forfeiture is a legal process that allows law enforcement to seize a person’s money, car, or any other property based on the suspicion that it is linked to criminal activity. The government gets to keep the property permanently just by showing that it’s more likely than not that the property was involved in a crime–and most of the time, the government doesn’t have to prove anything at all, because it wins “default” judgments against people who can’t afford to challenge the forfeiture in court. The forfeited assets go directly back into the hands of the law enforcement agencies responsible for seizing them. As a result, the agencies have a perverse incentive to seize as much as possible from those least able to fight back.

Even if a person is never arrested or charged with a crime, the government can still take her money or belongings through civil asset forfeiture. In addition to the information here, you can download our resource guide to learn more. (PDF)

New Jersey: The Data

The ACLU-NJ took a snapshot in time to examine the seizures New Jersey made in a period of five months. Every county uses it.

The data captures the civil asset forfeiture seizures that took place from January through May 2016, which were compiled through public records requests. We had to go to court to get access to one county’s information. Overall, about $5.5 million was seized in total.

Race and Civil Asset Forfeiture

The abuse of civil asset forfeiture disproportionately harms people of color in New Jersey.

Using data of civil asset forfeiture actions in New Jersey from January through May 2016,1 we identified correlations between population demographics and the number of seizures made by law enforcement. This graph compares the number of seizures in each municipality to that municipality’s white and Minority populations.2 3 Areas with greater Minority populations tended to have a higher number of seizures.

1 Source - Data on file with ACLU of New Jersey
2 Source - American Factfinder, U.S. Census Bureau (2016)
3 Minority Populations include Black, Latinx, Asian-American, and "Other"

Top 10 Municipalities by Total Money Seized

  1. Newton: $660,025.00
  2. Fort Lee: $419,193.00
  3. Warren: $291,187.00
  4. Newark: $282,073.88
  5. Union: $266,858.92
  6. Jersey City: $148,627.00
  7. Paterson: $145,537.00
  8. Trenton: $143,309.19
  9. Camden: $111,872.34
  10. Elizabeth: $93,272.60

Top 10 Municipalities by Number of Seizures

  1. Jersey City: 346
  2. Newark: 175
  3. Paterson: 93
  4. Middle Township: 89
  5. Trenton: 79
  6. Toms River: 37
  7. East Orange: 32
  8. Camden: 31
  9. Elizabeth: 31
  10. Union City: 21

What we, the people, can do about it

The ACLU-NJ is challenging civil asset forfeiture in the courts, in the Legislature, and in communities. Simply understanding how often it happens is the first step. The ACLU-NJ has an attorney working on litigation and policy to curtail the abuses of civil asset forfeiture. If you need help, contact the ACLU-NJ at intake@aclu-nj.org or 973-854-1719.

Related Content

Civil Asset Forfeiture Resource Guide

Read and download our brief resource guide about civil asset forfeiture. (PDF)

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