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.”
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.DONATE
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