DOJ Will Try To Prevent Asset Forfeiture Abuse

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The Trump administration soon will restore the ability of police to seize suspects’ money and property with federal help, but the Associated Press reports that the policy will come with new provisions aimed at preventing the types of abuse that led the Obama Justice Department to curtail the practice. At issue is asset forfeiture, which has been criticized because it allows law enforcement to take possessions without convictions or, in some cases, indictments. The policy to be rolled out today targets “adoptive forfeiture,” which lets local authorities circumvent more-restrictive state laws to seize property under federal law. The proceeds are then shared with federal counterparts.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder significantly limited the practice in response to criticism that it was ripe for abuse, particularly with seizures of small amounts of cash. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will ease those restrictions, but with new requirements on when federal law can be used. A key change will require more detail from police agencies about probable cause justifying a seizure before federal authorities get involved. The Justice Department will also have to decide more quickly whether to take on local seizures, and let property owners know their rights and the status of their belongings within 45 days, faster than federal law requires. Another change will make it harder for police to seize under $10,000 unless they have a state warrant, have made an arrest related to the seizure, have taken other contraband, such as drugs, along with the money, or the owner has confessed to a crime. Without at least one of those conditions, authorities will need a federal prosecutor’s approval to seize it under federal law. Old rules set that threshold at $5,000. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who has sponsored legislation to regulate asset forfeiture tightly, said Sessions’ move is “a troubling step backward” that would “bring back a loophole that’s become one of the most flagrantly abused provisions of this policy.”

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