Now President Trump’s top lawman said he plans to increase the practice, which involves law enforcement seizing the personal property from suspected criminals without them having ever being charged with a crime.
At a conference in Minneapolis, Sessions said that local law enforcement could expect some dramatic changes in the way U.S. Attorneys operate: There will be increased prosecution of gun crimes (good), stepping up monitoring of gang activity (great), increased investigation of prescription drug abuse (also good) and increased asset seizure by the feds (very bad).
“[W]e hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture—especially for drug traffickers,” Sessions said, Reason Magazine reported. “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.”
Asset forfeiture became popular in the 1980s, when gangs and drug cartels ruled America’s streets. Law enforcement were able to not only arrest the offenders, bud disrupt their entire operation by seizing their cars, guns, and any cash they have had.
Since then, Reason Magazine reports, the practice has gone haywire. Local law enforcement now rely on the money seized to pay for essential services like weapons, cars and uniforms. Between 1989 and 2010, the US Attorney’s offices seized almost $13 billion in property. And that number has accelerated to more than $1 billion per year.
Owners of the property have to go through a long, costly, and cumbersome process of even beginning to get their seized assets returned. Essentially, unlike habeas corpus, it’s up to the citizen to prove their assets werenot used in the commission of a crime or were ill-begotten gains.
Darpana Sheth, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm, called Sessions’ announcement “a disheartening setback in the fight to protect Americans’ private property rights” in a statement Monday.
“Ordinary Americans see that civil forfeiture is unconstitutional, and 24 states have taken steps to roll back civil forfeiture laws,” Sheth continued. “The Attorney General’s plan to increase forfeitures is jarringly out of step with those positive developments.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), a consistent Republican advocate for reforming asset forfeiture laws, said in a statement to Reason Monday: “As Justice Thomas has previously said, there are serious constitutional concerns regarding modern civil asset forfeiture practices. The Department has an obligation to consider due process constraints in crafting its civil asset forfeiture policies.”
Lee was referring to conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ notable dissent in an asset forfeiture case this June. Thomas wrote that forfeiture operations “frequently target the poor and other groups least able to defend their interests in forfeiture proceedings.”
How bad is it? In 2014, the U.S. Government seized more money and property from Americans than common burglars did.
Many Republicans are not fans of this move – and are making their voices heard. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan tweeted Monday that “This policy takes us backward. Congress must step up to protect the property of Americans from a government that keeps stealing from them.”
This policy takes us backward. Congress must step up to protect the property of Americans from a government that keeps stealing from them. https://t.co/62t4tKLZHz
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) July 17, 2017