Attorney General Jeff Sessions plans on increasing the way police handle seized cash and property. Sessions announced the policy change Monday indicating a shift toward “asset forfeiture.” This means cash and property of criminals will be seized. It is a controversial policy, and one the Obama administration had moved away from.
“We hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture — especially for drug traffickers,” Sessions told the National District Attorney’s Association in Minneapolis. “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.”
Part of what makes the practice so controversial is that the assets of suspected criminals are eligible for seizure. Taking assets from criminals, actual criminals that have been convicted of actual crimes, is far less controversial than the seizure of assets belonging to those who have merely been accused of crimes.
Asset forfeiture can happen even when a suspect is simply suspected of criminal activity.
As The Washington Post reports, “many states allow law enforcement agencies to keep cash that they seize, creating what critics characterize as a profit motive. The practice is widespread: In 2014, federal law enforcement officers took more property from citizens than burglars did. State and local authorities seized untold millions more.”
The numbers are hard to comprehend. In the last decade, The Post reports, the DEA has taken more than $3 billion from people who haven’t been charged with crimes.
“The practice is ripe for abuse,” the Post states. “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.”
Eric Holder’s Justice Department had ended the practice in 2015. Before his memo, local law enforcement agencies were able to ignore state and local laws on assets seizure in what was known as “adoptive forfeitures.” The local agencies used their Federal agencies to handle the official paperwork.
Attorney General Sessions is restoring the process. “Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate,” he said, “as is sharing with our partners.”
On one level, this is an issue about the government taking assets and money from American citizens who have not been convicted of a crime. On another level, Sessions’ reversal is the Federal government stepping in at local levels and allowing state and local law enforcement agencies to side-step the rules that govern them.