Sessions Will Step Up Federal Asset Forfeiture

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions will issue a new directive this week aimed at increasing police seizures of cash and property, reports the Washington Post. “With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures,” Sessions told the National District Attorneys Association in Minneapolis. “No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime.” Asset forfeiture is a disputed practice that allows law enforcement officials to to take money and goods permanently from people suspected of crime. In many cases, neither a criminal conviction nor even a criminal charge is necessary. Under forfeiture laws in most states and at the federal level, mere suspicion of wrongdoing is enough to allow police to seize items permanently.

Additionally, many states allow law enforcement agencies to keep cash that they seize, creating what critics call a profit motive. In 2014, federal law enforcement officers took more property from citizens than burglars did. State and local authorities seized untold millions more. Since 2007, the Drug Enforcement Administration alone has taken more than $3 billion in cash from people not charged with any crime, says the Justice Department’s Inspector General. Thirteen states now allow forfeiture only in cases where there’s been a criminal conviction, said Robert Johnson of the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that represents forfeiture defendants. In 2015, Eric Holder’s Justice Department sharply curtailed a type of forfeiture that allowed local police to share part of their forfeiture proceeds with federal authorities. Known as “adoptive” forfeiture, it allowed state and local authorities to sidestep sometimes stricter state laws, processing forfeiture cases under the more permissive federal statute. Yesterday, Sessions said, “Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate, as is sharing with our partners.”

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