Review of Behavioral Economics > Vol 4 > Issue 2

The Welfare Effects of Civil Forfeiture

Michael Preciado, Buchalter, Irvine, USA, , Bart J. Wilson, Smith Institute for Political Economy and Philosophy and Economic Science Institute, Chapman University, USA,
Suggested Citation
Michael Preciado and Bart J. Wilson (2017), "The Welfare Effects of Civil Forfeiture", Review of Behavioral Economics: Vol. 4: No. 2, pp 153-179.

Publication Date: 13 Sep 2017
© 2017 M. Preciado and B. J. Wilson
Law and economics
JEL Code: C90K39
Civil asset forfeitureExperimental economics


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In this article:
1. Introduction 
2. A Brief Overview of Civil Forfeiture 
3. Reasons For Civil Forfeiture 
4. Reasons against Civil Forfeiture 
5. Experimental Design and Procedures 
6. Results 
7. Discussion and Conclusion 


Using a laboratory experiment we explore competing claims on the welfare effects of civil forfeiture. Experiment participants are tasked with making trade-offs in allocating resources “to fight crime” with and without the ability to seize and forfeit assets. It is an open question whether the societal impact of reducing crime is greater in a world with or without civil forfeiture. Proponents of civil forfeiture argue that the ill-gotten gains of criminals can be used by law enforcement to further fight crime. Opponents claim that the confiscation of assets by law enforcement distorts the prioritization of cases by focusing attention, not on cases with the largest societal impact, but on those with the highest valued assets that can be seized. We find that the public is better off in a world without civil forfeiture.