Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will be ramping up their use of civil asset forfeiture, a practice that has been used to violate Americans’ private property rights.
According to Reason, Sessions told the National District Attorneys Association on Monday that the DOJ will be issuing a directive announcing the increased use of asset forfeiture with a focus on “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,” said Sessions. “Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate as is sharing with our partners.”
It is believed that under the directive, the DOJ will be returning to use of “adoptive seizures,” meaning that state and local law enforcement can ignore state laws that limit the use of asset forfeiture.
Civil asset forfeiture is the practice of seizing private property that is believed to have been related to a crime. The onus is on the property owner to prove that it wasn’t. The owner doesn’t have the legal right to representation in these circumstances, which makes it very difficult for people to regain their property if it has been seized under the practice of asset forfeiture.
While it’s true that asset forfeiture has been a useful tool in cracking down on drug traffickers, it has also been abused repeatedly to violate the private property rights of American citizens. Here are some examples:
- Jennifer Boatwright and her boyfriend, Ron Henderson, were pulled over because police suspected they were drug couriers. No drugs were found in the car, but they were told they had to “sign over their cash to the city of Tenaha” or else they would be imprisoned and Boatwright’s two children would go into foster care.
- Nelly Moreira’s son was arrested after he was found to be carrying a handgun in her car, resulting in her car being seized by the police. Moreira had to pay $1,020 to get the car back, only to deal with further bureaucracy, resulting in her “struggling to make her car payments each month as her Honda sat in a city lot, unused and unsheltered from the elements.” She finally got her car back when the District of Columbia’s Public Defender Service intervened.
- The New York Police Department allegedly seized $2,651 in cash from a family in the Bronx that was going to go towards rent because they were searching for a parolee that was friends with one of the family members. The family faces eviction as a result.
In fact, most instances of asset forfeiture are in conjunction with smaller crimes, and even then most people aren’t ever charged with a crime. Clearly, the practice has become nothing more than a massive revenue stream for the DOJ.
Civil asset forfeiture is one of the most abused practices in the books, so Sessions’ statement and attitude are both surprising and disappointing.
The practice was intended to confiscate drugs and drug money, but over the years many innocent people have had large sums of cash taken from them with no justification, no charges and no representation.
A few years ago I posted several pieces on this subject, over at the old place, and here’s an excerpt from one of them:
The police are wreaking havoc on innocent people’s lives and so far as I know it’s not against the law to carry around large sums of money. Maybe it’s not the brightest idea in the world, but it’s not illegal to deal in cash.
One man had over $17,000 taken from him when he was on his way to pay down on a Chinese restaurant and another man had $18,000 taken from him when he was en route to buy restaurant equipment to upgrade his business. They even took $2400 from a guy who was unemployed and moving cross country to a new job. His father had given him the money to make the move and they seized it.
One of the things the WaPo piece points out, which I wanted to share, is that the confiscated money is sent to the DoJ where they keep a large portion of it and return a smaller portion back to the locals. Under the federal Equitable Sharing Program, police have seized $2.5 billion since 2001 from people who were not charged with a crime and without a warrant being issued. Police reasoned that the money was crime-related. About $1.7 billion was sent back to law enforcement agencies for their use. Here’s the breakdown of just a few of them:
– New York City Police participated in 2,167 seizures. They received back $27 million of $134.2 million
– Los Angeles County Sheriff, CA participated in 2,564 seizures and got back $24.3 million out of $126 million
– Los Angeles Police, CA participated in 2,375 seizures and got back $18.4 million out of $86.1 million
– Houston Police, TX participated in 798 seizures and got back $14.7 million out of $63.3 million
– Atlanta Police, GA participated in 827 seizures and got back $9.3 million out of $74.6 million
(The rest of this list can be seen at the link provided above)
Steven Peterson, a former US DEA agent who arranges highway interdiction training said that patrol officers used to try to make their names with large drug busts. He said he saw that change when agency leaders realized that cash seizures could help their departments during lean times. “They saw this as a way to provide equipment and training for their guys,” Peterson said. “If you seized large amounts of cash, that’s the gift that keeps on giving.”
Wow, that’s a helluva attitude to have regarding taking money from innocent people, isn’t it?
In 2015, AG Eric Holder put the brakes on this, but not until after years of money being seized and huge chunks of it destined for his department. For Sessions to increase this is opening up that can of worms again, and it makes me wonder if we have the right guy in charge.