Sessions Announces Plan to Expand Civil Asset Forfeiture
United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions held a press conference to announce the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) intention to expand both state and federal law enforcement’s abilities to seize assets suspected to have been involved in criminal activity – a process known as “civil asset forfeiture.”
"Civil asset forfeiture is a key tool that helps law enforcement help defund organized crime, prevents new crime from committed and weakens the criminals and cartels," according to Sessions.
Law enforcement organizations were also supportive of the policy. Nathan R. Catura, National President for the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said the organization “believes that Civil Asset Forfeiture is a valuable law enforcement tool in anti-drug, gang and fraud prevention. In an era when illegal drug trafficking has dramatically increased, the forfeiture of illegal assets serves as both a deterrent and source of revenue to assist in the suppression of criminal enterprises. In addition, many federal agencies partner with state, local and tribal law enforcement and often transfer these forfeited assets to departments with limited resources.
The practice is highly contentious on due process grounds, with critics noting that assets may generally be seized even before a criminal charge has been filed or a conviction has been obtained. Furthermore, even in such instances, the seized assets are often never returned.
As the Washington Post points out, “Since 2007…the DEA has seized more than $4 billion in cash from people suspected of involvement with the drug trade. But 81 percent of those seizures, totaling $3.2 billion, were conducted administratively, meaning no civil or criminal charges were brought against the owners of the cash and no judicial review of the seizures ever occurred.”
Furthermore, the $3.2 billion figure does not account for other seized assets, such as cars, homes, and electronics.
Under the Obama Administration, Attorney General Eric Holder placed specific limitations on the power, specifically focusing on so-called “adoptive” forfeiture, a process under which 80 percent of the assets seized by state law enforcement are returned to the states, with the federal government keeping the remaining 20 percent.
The renewal of adoptive forfeiture means that, in effect, even in states that don’t allow civil asset forfeiture, law enforcement could still employ the tactic by involving federal entities, a loophole that the Washington Post singled out as being fairly easy to exploit.
“Adoption cases have minimal federal involvement. They are cases in which a local police agency simply calls up a field office of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or other federal law enforcement agency to sign some papers so that the case gets kicked up to federal court, where it will be governed by the less restrictive federal forfeiture laws.”
Posted in The Takedown