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Jeff Sessions Odd DOJ Crusade to Increase Civil Asset Forfeitures

Jeff Sessions Odd DOJ Crusade to Increase Civil Asset Forfeitures

Just what we need — more government confiscation of private property without conviction

Just as states have finally taken steps to stop civil asset forfeiture, Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to take the federal government a few steps back.

In a speech to the National District Attorneys Association, Sessions announced that this week the Department of Justice hopes to issue “policies to increase forfeitures.”

Sessions stated:

While criminal gangs have been growing and are numerous, their numbers are finite. If we target them aggressively, we can reduce homicides and make our communities safer.

In addition, we hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture—especially for drug traffickers. With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures. No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime. Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate as is sharing with our partners.

Civil forfeiture remains a controversial issue in America since it’s “a process by which the government can take and sell your property without ever convicting, or even charging, you with a crime.” The procedures are civil, which means defendants do not receive the same protections given to criminal defendants.

It’s one of the few issues that garners bipartisan support.

Connecticut became the latest state to end civil asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction. No one in the House or Senate voted against it. The bill did not go far enough since the Equitable Sharing program at the “Department of Justice will allow police to bypass these new restrictions.” Reason reported:

The “Equitable Sharing” program lets local law enforcement agencies partner with the feds on raids and other police actions. The police then route the forfeitures through the federal government instead of state courts. This allows police in many states to keep more of the property or assets (up to 80 percent) under looser guidelines than they would under their state’s own forfeiture guidelines.

Some states who have reformed their asset forfeiture laws—Arizona, for example, just this April—have structured their changes in such a way that police cannot simply bypass them by turning to the federal government. Unfortunately, that component did not make it into Connecticut’s law.

Sessions’ announcement struck a nerve with those who have fought against civil asset forfeiture:

Darpana Sheth, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm, called Sessions’ announcement “a disheartening setback in the fight to protect Americans’ private property rights” in a statement Monday.

“Ordinary Americans see that civil forfeiture is unconstitutional, and 24 states have taken steps to roll back civil forfeiture laws,” Sheth continued. “The Attorney General’s plan to increase forfeitures is jarringly out of step with those positive developments.”

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), a consistent Republican advocate for reforming asset forfeiture laws, said in a statement to Reason Monday: “As Justice Thomas has previously said, there are serious constitutional concerns regarding modern civil asset forfeiture practices. The Department has an obligation to consider due process constraints in crafting its civil asset forfeiture policies.”

Lee was referring to conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ notable dissent in an asset forfeiture case this June. Thomas wrote that forfeiture operations “frequently target the poor and other groups least able to defend their interests in forfeiture proceedings.”

In November 2015, The Washington Post reported that “law enforcement officers took more property from American citizens than burglars did” in 2014.

The numbers have not gotten better. From The Washington Post:

Since 2007, the Drug Enforcement Administration alone has taken more than $3 billion in cash from people not charged with any crime, according to the Justice Department’s Inspector General.

The practice is ripe for abuse. In one case in 2016, Oklahoma police seized $53,000 owned by a Christian band, an orphanage and a church after stopping a man on a highway for a broken taillight. A few years earlier, a Michigan drug task force raided the home of a self-described “soccer mom,” suspecting she was not in compliance with the state’s medical marijuana law. They proceeded to take “every belonging” from the family, including tools, a bicycle and her daughter’s birthday money.

Sessions did not expand on his plans or exactly when the DOJ will roll out these policies.


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What is WRONG with Sessions? He is turning out to be a major disappointment.

    It’s not like nobody saw this coming. A history of seizing private property is something that bothered a lot of us about Trump all the way back in the primaries, and Sessions has been a major cheerleader for it for a long time too. It amazes me that this crap withstands the appeals process.

Both T-rump and Sessions are kinda the anti-Scalia.

Don’t believe me…??? Read up before you down=thumb and make an asp of yourself.

Thank you for highlighting this.

Sessions love for asset forfeiture and Donald’s known love for Kelo are just about all I need to jump ship (Not Hillary & Gorsuch having been achieved).

I hope many will raise the roof over this & let Sessions know this is not acceptable. It is unconscionable, not to mention at fundamental odds with 4A. That anyone calling themselves a conservative would embrace CAF means they are not.

    Daiwa in reply to Daiwa. | July 18, 2017 at 7:39 pm

    An afterthought: I’ve agreed all along with the proposition that the media & Democrats (redundant, I know) could not un-do Trump, no matter how much crap they threw against the wall, that only Trump or his appointees could do that by breaking faith with those who elected him. This is the first major ‘break’ for me.

I used to be a lobster diver with a license when I lived in MA. If caught in possession of a “short” lobster, they confiscate ALL of the property you have with you at the diving site, your gear, clothes, car, EVERYTHING.

It could be nerve wracking because the locals, particularly where there were profession lobster fishermen with pots and boats, were hostile to divers and harassed us constantly. They didn’t need to charge you or even keep the evidence. It was up to the law enforcement official to make the decision. You had no recourse.

Naturally, I only kept lobsters that were clearly legal, no marginal candidates. On most dives, it was very difficult to catch even one. We could catch 30-40 lobsters with no keepers.

    I agree – it’s not just CAF. In Arizona, Game & Fish violations are felonies. Throw a line in the wrong water, your professional license is at risk. In a word, absurd.

By all means Jeff, let’s not go after the “Leakers”, FBI, CIA, Holder, Obama, Jarrett etc…

I hate to say this but I’m beginning to believe Jeff may have been a mistake

It’s like he’s runnng a state AG job in the 70’s… He doesn’t seem to get the big picture and is stuck in the minutia.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Civil Asset Forfeiture laws were instead (instead, not also) applied to corrupt politicians? Just think how much money could be seized from the Clinton Foundation to recover what they received as bribes, what they misappropriated from Haiti and other so-called charitable and aid programs, what they were paid for selling our uranium to Russia, the list goes on nearly ad infinitum — billions of dollars that could be used for the benefit of taxpayers (e.g., to reduce the deficit or to rebuild infrastructure). Equally enormous sums could be recovered from Obama’s unaccountably huge assets — just think what we could do with the money he sneaked into Iran’s hands, if only we could seize up to an equal sum from his and his family’s personal assets as well as from his co-conspirators. Thousands of politicians and high-ranking bureaucrats at all levels of government deserve to lose their ill-gotten gains, and CAF is a quick and easy weapon. And nothing would ever have to be proved in court, per CAF rules, which would allow us to work around the establishment’s refusal to indict high-ranking officials for their crimes. (Or am I the only one who doubts that any high-ranking Dem or GOPe will ever be indicted?)

    Ragspierre in reply to J Motes. | July 18, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    “Wouldn’t it be nice if…”

    No. I would NOT. Name a time when such a scheme would not devolve into the lives of “the little people”.

    A happy fantasy, perhaps, but nothing more.

      J Motes in reply to Ragspierre. | July 18, 2017 at 9:12 pm

      Hi Rags. Yes, it it just an idle thought and not a carefully worked out plan that required months of research. I do question your observation that such a scheme would eventually devolve into the lives of “the little people”. Although I share your cynicism, with vigor, the scheme cannot _devolve_ on us because we are already stuck with it. My little idea would operate in the reverse as it would _evolve_ up to the big wigs, and that, as I am sure you will agree, is a happy fantasy that never has and never will be seen in the real world.

*sigh* Let’s get beyond the propaganda here. The “facts” surrounding civil forfeitures are mostly disseminated by the anti-forfeiture activists. The vast majority of civil forfeitures result from situations where the non-contraband property is found in conjunction with contraband in a relationship which strongly suggests that the non-contraband was either used to transport said contraband or was acquired as the fruits of illegal activity. There are some occasions where forfeitures are made even though the circumstances do not justify legally taking the property. This is mostly the result of the lower standard of proof necessary to obtain a forfeiture order. The actual cases where property is forfeited when there is no legal basis for such action are very rare. And, they usually involve some form of judicial misconduct. However, some jurisdictions have stretched the bounds of legal credulity to turn civil forfeiture into a revenue generating enterprise. And, this has to be addressed.

The civil forfeiture laws came into being as a way to render the drug industry unprofitable even if the heads of the drug operations could not be charged and convicted of drug related crimes. As illicit drugs was largely a cash industry, encountering a person with thousands of dollars in his possession, who could not account for such a sum of money and who was in, or believed to be in, the illicit drug industry, made it reasonable to assume that the money was the result of illegal acts. Even if the LE seizes the property on the street most states require that the agency obtain an order to hold the property for a forfeiture hearing within 72 hours of the seizure. If that can not be accomplished, then the person who possessed the property can reclaim it. So far so good. However, the language of the laws allowed for the legal seizure and forfeiture of non-contraband property, especially vehicles, which were found in close proximity to contraband, such as illicit drugs. All the seizing agency had to prove in court was that such property was used to violate the law. It should be harder to prove that property which was not used to transport contraband is subject to forfeiture as fruits of the crime. And, the seizing agency has the burden of proof in this regard.

Is civil forfeiture a bad thing? Not always. In the vast majority of cases, forfeiture of non-contraband items works. In a few cases it does not. The laws have to be written carefully and judicial actions have to be closely scrutinized, or abuse of the system can occur.

    Daiwa in reply to Mac45. | July 19, 2017 at 1:00 am

    I absolutely disagree. Asset seizure on the basis of suspicion of a crime only is never right. That it happens mostly to bad people does not justify it. And when the value of seized assets exceeds all property theft combined, there’s a problem. Given the cover & opportunity to convert assets to cash for the ‘seizing’ entity, that opportunity has been, and will be, abused. Righteously.

    OldProf2 in reply to Mac45. | July 19, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    I also disagree. Civil forfeiture is a gross violation of our civil rights. Look at these videos:
    and many others.
    I have 29 years of experience in law enforcement, and I believe that civil forfeiture is one of the largest incentives for corruption among police agencies. Police should not have a financial incentive to seize people’s property.

Sessions is a total failure and needs to go.

“*sigh* Let’s get beyond the propaganda here. The “facts” surrounding civil forfeitures are mostly disseminated by the anti-forfeiture activists.”

I agree – all we have is a statement by the AG to an association of District Attys. If you read his speech, he was talking about criminal gangs…

“While criminal gangs have been growing and are numerous, their numbers are finite. If we target them aggressively, we can reduce homicides and make our communities safer. In addition, we hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture—especially for drug traffickers. With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures. No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime.”

I’ll wait until I see the new directive before condemning Sessions. ICE is going after more gangs, Trump has increased the number of Immigration judges as well as ICE and Border Patrol officers, Cruz offered a bill (“el Chapo”) which proposed using seized drug money to pay for the increased border security. Revised regs on what and how much can be seized from convicted criminals may be the final nail.

If you bothered to read the AG’s letter on charging and sentencing policy, it was very specific that the intent was to follow the law with consistency. The new policy on asset seizure may also be “follow the law and be consistent”.

If you don’t like the law, then petition Congress to change it. It would be nice to travel through the US without wondering what the next state is going to do to you. I don’t like seeing some people treated differently, based on status, race, sex, etc. Remember David Gregory going free for purposely showing off a magazine while a Iraq war vet was charged with transporting a gun/magazine while on his way to Walter Reed.

    Daiwa in reply to Liz. | July 19, 2017 at 1:06 am

    I have no problem with seizing assets criminally obtained. But only once a crime is proven to have occurred and the seizure is approved by a court. Anything short of that is Soviet. Making asset seizure on suspicion of a crime ‘consistent’ fails to make it right.

The Friendly Grizzly | July 19, 2017 at 1:49 am

I expected far better from him. As another comment maker said: Sessions is a big disappointment.

License to steal. No wonder people hate us. We make it easy with idiocy like this.

Common Sense | July 19, 2017 at 10:53 am

NO private property should be seized with a court’s involvement.

If you have not been convicted of a crime your property should not be taken. Period!

This is nothing but legalized stealing. The more you steal the more you get. Ripe for abuse.

“I smelled marijuana” and you could lose everything. Evidence of marijuana not required.