Recent Trends in Drug-Related Asset Forfeitures

The latest available data from the federal courts show that during July 2019 the government reported 68 new drug-related asset forfeitures under 21 USC 881. According to the case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), this number is up 17.2 percent over the previous month when the number of civil filings of this type totaled 58.

Table 1. Drug Related Seizure of
Property 21 USC 881 Civil Filings
Number Latest Month 68
Percent Change from previous month 17.2%
Percent Change from 1 year ago 0.6%
Percent Change from 5 years ago -34.1%

When monthly 2019 civil filings of this type are compared with those of the same period in the previous year, their number was only slightly higher (0.6%). Civil filings for July 2019 are lower than they were for the same period five years ago. Overall, the data show that civil filings of this type are down 34.1 percent from levels reported in July 2014. See Table 1.

The long-term trend in drug-related for asset forfeitures by fiscal year is shown more clearly in Figure 1. A decade ago asset forfeitures were over double their present level. Numbers started declining during FY 2013 and continued falling through FY 2016. Under the current administration, the numbers have risen modestly but are still far below earlier levels. In FY 2009 these asset forfeitures had reached 1,426. During the first ten months of FY 2019 there had only been 513 such seizures. If the pace of seizures continues at the same rate for the remainder of FY 2019, they are projected to only climb to 616. This is below the 634 such cases filed during FY 2018.

Figure 1. Drug-Related Asset Forfeitures (21 USC 881), FY 2008 - FY 2019 (through July)
(Click for larger image)

Top Ranked Judicial Districts

Understandably, there is great variation in the number of drug related property seizures in each of the nation's ninety-four federal judicial districts.

Table 2. Top Ten Districts
Judicial District Count Rank 1yr ago 5yrs ago
N. Y., W 5 1 - 3
Ill, S 4 2 11 -
S Car 4 2 11 -
Texas, S 4 2 11 19
Cal, C 4 2 6 19
New Hamp 3 6 11 8
Nebraska 3 6 11 19
Ken, E 3 6 11 8
Mo, W 3 6 11 -
Ga, N 3 6 2 2
  • The Western District of New York (Buffalo) - with 5 civil filings - was the most active during July 2019.

  • The Southern District of Illinois (East St. Louis), District of South Carolina, Southern District of Texas (Houston) and Central District of California (Los Angeles) were all tied for second place with four filings each.

The federal judicial district which showed the greatest growth in drug-related property seizures over the past year was the Southern District of Illinois (East St. Louis). Compared to five years ago, the district with the largest growth was Southern District of Texas (Houston).

Each month, TRAC offers a free report focused on one area of civil litigation in the U.S. district courts. In addition, subscribers to the TRACFed data service can generate custom reports by district, office, nature of suit or federal jurisdiction via the TRAC Data Interpreter.