Inspector General's New Asset Forfeiture Report Reveals DOJ Is Now Just Robbing Americans [UPDATED]

The Office of Inspector General for the Justice Department released an audit yesterday reviewing the DEA's use of asset forfeiture, which is the policy that allows federal law enforcement agencies to confiscate the savings and property of Americans suspected of a crime. The report highlights no illegal or improper behavior on the DEA's part, but it does reveal a massive shift away from due process toward blatant thuggery.

According to a chart provided by the OIG, 86 percent of asset forfeitures that occurred between 2001 and 2011 were either administrative or civil, and only 14 percent were criminal. That means roughly 86 percent of the instances in which the government took cash, computers, cars, homes, life savings, investments, property or other assets, it did so without approval from a judge, a verdict from a jury, or any meaningful form of due process

Dean Calbreath, formerly of the San Diego Union-Tribune, politely informed me that I misstated how administrative and civil forfeiture work. They do ultimately go before judges. Calbreath writes:

Civil forfeiture cases go before U.S. District Courts. Administrative cases go before administrative law judges, whose decisions can be appealed in the U.S. District Court.

I think one thing that may have misled you is the sentence that reads that administrative forfeitures take place “without judicial involvement.” What that means is without involvement of the judiciary. The administrative law judges who oversee such seizures are part of the administration, not the judiciary, although their decisions may be appealed to the judiciary.

The OIG's chart is below: 

Here's some clarification on the three types of asset forfeiture, courtesy of the Justice Department:

Administrative forfeiture is the process by which property may be forfeited to the United States without judicial involvement. Federal seizing agencies perform administrative forfeitures. Seizures must be based on probable cause. The authority for a seizing agency to start an administrative forfeiture action is found in 19 U.S.C. § 1607.

"Administrative forfeiture can be used to seize and forfeit the following:
• any amount of currency;
• personal property valued at $500,000 or less, including cars, guns, and boats;
• hauling conveyances of unlimited value.

"Real property cannot be forfeited administratively.

Criminal forfeiture is an action brought as part of the criminal prosecution of a defendant that includes the forfeiture of property used or derived from the crime. If the defendant is convicted, the judge or the jury may find that the property is forfeitable. Forfeiture is limited to the property interests of the defendant and only to property involved in the particular counts on which the defendant is convicted. Only the defendant’s interest can be forfeited in a criminal case because criminal forfeiture is part of the sentence in the criminal case.

Civil forfeiture is a proceeding brought against the property rather than against the person who committed the offense. Civil forfeiture does not require either criminal charges against the owner of the property or a criminal conviction.

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  • Drake||

    Idle mercenaries are dangerous. Better to keep them happy by allowing a little pillaging.

  • Pro Libertate||

    There's a reason we require[d] due process under the Constitution.

  • R C Dean||

    What, that old thing? Pfft.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Dude, that thing is like 100 years old or something like that

  • Doctor Whom||

    The Constitution is not a suicide pact, and besides, talk like that will lead to a dictatorship by unelected liberal activist judges.

  • Tulpa Doom||

    Technically this is due process. "Due process" doesn't mean a judicial trial in all instances, it means that you follow the common law. Which allows executive privilege and asset forfeiture and lots of other nasty shit.

  • Pro Libertate||

    It's not due process under the Constitution. There is such a thing as inadequate process. The kind of civil forfeiture we have today is novel and not at all consistent with the idea that the government can't take your property without a hearing and without some sort of criminal or civil guilt on your part. Which was the standard until a few decades ago.

  • mr simple||

    The report highlights no illegal or improper behavior on the DEA's part, but it does reveal a massive shift away from due process toward blatant thuggery.

    Procedures were followed.

    You guys are really trying to get me riled up today. It's one nut punch after another.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Taking property under certain circumstances without due process of law is "legal" in the sense that the courts have stamped it so. But it's clearly unconstitutional by any meaning of the term.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    We need more Napolitanos

  • Pro Libertate||

    What we need are people outside of the government who can declare things unconstitutional and remove people from office who act unconstitutionally or unethically.

    The Censor!

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Needs more pitchforks

  • Pro Libertate||

    And tar and feathers.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    And rails

  • Pro Libertate||

    Oh, and togas.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Stakes. Surrounded by this year's entire harvest of straw.

  • Tulpa Doom||

    One could argue that a temporary seizure would be justified if there were concern that the defendant would try to move the assets in question out of the jurisdiction of the court, or hide them in some other way.

  • Pro Libertate||

    That's different and isn't what's happening. Though even something like that, in my mind, could be problematic. Ideally, if assets had to be held that way, I'd prefer an nongovernmental third party. Like an escrow set up.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Gangsterism.

    And the left wing authoritarians love it just as much as right wing authoritarians (maybe more).

  • Drake||

    Lot's more.

  • fish||

    "But, but, but it's democratic"

    Stamps his little collectivist T o n y feet!

  • kinnath||

    democracy is evil.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    But it's clearly unconstitutional by any meaning of the term.

    Preserve, protect, and defend.

    Fold, spindle, and mutilate.

  • ||

    This is not just bad policy, it is theft.

    It is no different from taxation. Theft is theft.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    What we need are people outside of the government who can declare things unconstitutional and remove people from office who act unconstitutionally or unethically.

    That's Juggalo Talk.

    *dials FBI regional anti-terror hotline*

  • The Late P Brooks||

    This could be the solution to the deficit. Just imagine how relieved and grateful kindly old Grandpa Buffett would have been if the DOJ had "arrested" a few hundred million dollars' worth of Berkshire's assets when the SEC caught one of their fund managers frontrunning their positions.

  • wareagle||

    combine this piece with the one about drones and the result is Bad Friday.

  • Sevo||

    'It's the price we pay for civilization'
    At least that's what I read.

  • Drake||

    Well, it's the price they collect.

  • aelhues||

    When did we decide that this type of thing is allowed? What right does the state have to my property, even were I convicted of a crime? The only way, in my mind, that they would have any right, is if I were convicted, and then some of my property could be sold to cover costs of defense, court costs, fines and such. If I end up in prison long term, and I have no family that could claim the property, I can see the state having a right to it, as long as proceeds are held for when/if I get out.

    Otherwise, the only property that should be allowed to be confiscated, is that which was illegally owned/stolen.

  • sarcasmic||

    You made money without paying them for protection, therefore they're going to take it all.

    Fuck you, that's why.

  • Tulpa Doom||

    It's inherited from English common law. Just like executive privilege.

  • Paul.||

    It runs directly counter to constitutional law.

  • Tulpa Doom||

    "due process" is a common law placeholder.

  • Drake||

    "we"?

    We didn't decide anything.

  • sarcasmic||

    I was told that "We are government" and that we decide when we vote.

    So by saying "We didn't decide anything" are you saying we don't vote?

    Because I vote.

    Sure, I can generally predict the outcome of an election by taking the inverse of my ballot, so it's not like my choices really matter, but at least I'm government.

    Right?

  • Drake||

    I didn't vote for any of this.

    I admit that at one point I thought it okay that the police kept a Wellcraft Scarab when they found it stuffed with hundreds of pounds of coke. They gave to a cool cop as part of his cover, along with a Ferrari Daytona and a hip partner from New York.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    I completely agree with this. On the other hand, given how expensive government operations tend to be, I would worry that allowing government to seize property to pay for court costs, fines, etc., would beggar all too many of those who were convicted of even relatively minor "offenses." Although I believe in minimal taxation, the administration of justice is one thing that it makes sense for everyone to subsidize through taxes, because it gives EVERYONE a vested interest in minimizing court costs, especially by reining in prosecutors to focus their attention and resources on serious cases only.

  • Tulpa Doom||

    That means roughly 86 percent of the instances in which the government took cash, computers, cars, homes, life savings, investments, property or other assets, it did so without approval from a judge, a verdict from a jury, or any meaningful form of due process.

    Civil forfeiture requires a civil trial, actually, so most of the dollar value of seizures does involve the judicial system.

    Disclaimer: yes, asset forfeiture is a crappy policy and something that should give our resident common law fellators pause when they act as if common law's shit don't stink.

  • Paul.||

    Paul Krugman is for the rule of lore! That's why he's a liberal!

  • sarcasmic||

    The issue was administrative forfeiture, not civil.

    Thank you for moving the goalposts.

  • Whahappan?||

    I may be mistaken, but I don't think civil forfeiture requires a trial, just an "investigation." From the article:

    "Civil forfeiture is a proceeding brought against the property rather than against the person who committed the offense. Civil forfeiture does not require either criminal charges against the owner of the property or a criminal conviction."

  • Paul.||

    Y'see Riggs, here's where you're going off the rails.

    I'm presuming that you're posting this to shock people in a civil rights-ey way.

    You already have the 22 or so libertarians in the country, we need to capture a wider consituency.

    The GOP is out because "Criminals!"

    So that leaves the dems. But there's one problem with the dems... the government taking private property isn't really a priority for them. In fact, it's what government does. Property rights are icky and gross, and Occupy Wall Street! and stuff. So yeah, the fact that the government is taking shit from people without due process? Not really a headline grabber.

  • Drake||

    I'm worried that they day isn't far where the Dems go Old Testament in their tax collection. Just show up at your house and take stuff. Without even bothering to make up criminal charges.

    There was a reason nobody except Jesus would eat with fucking tax-collectors 2,000 years ago.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Administrative, criminal, civil forfeiture:

    None of these things should exist. Assets should only be seized from individuals in the case that they can not afford to or refuse to pay compensation resulting from a conviction or civil lawsuit.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    And I mean by this that shit shouldn't automatically be seizable just because the owner was convicted of something, or even used the thing in a crime (drove the car to the post office where MAIL FRAUD!!!!!!!! was committed).

  • dennis bausch||

    the way civil forfeiture is being applied,if crimes are committed on your property, it can be confiscated. by extension, if your house has been robbed, big brother can take it from you.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    I am a victim of asset forfeiture abuse. I left property in the hands of someone, whom the Federal government later charged with a crime. They took my property several years ago, along with that of many other people, and to this day have not returned it. Although not negligible, The worth of the property in question is much smaller than the cost I would face, were I to hire legal assistance to get it back. So Uncle Sam has me over a barrel. I have written to the court more than once to declare my ownership of the property and demand its return; these are the most cost-effective options open to me, but so far, I have yet to receive even an acknowledgement, much less a substantive reply.

    Do the legally minded in the audience know of any effective methods to reclaim low-value seized property from the Federal government? Perhaps we need a multi-plaintiff lawsuit, which seeks return of the property, plaintiffs' legal and filing costs, and the appointment and compensation of an administrator, who would be responsible for reuniting the actual owners with their seized property. Would such a thing be possible? Would there be any reasonable chance of success? Or is there an easier or cheaper way to go about the task?

  • ||

    Is there such a thing as a class-action constitutional challenge?

  • ||

    Any citizen can bring a civil action. There is also a thing called private prosecution, where a criminal action is brought not by a prosecutor, but by a private citizen (though it can get expensive for the citizen to pursue it).

    Given that violating civil and constitutional rights is a crime, and police routinely use the police station, the jail attached to it, their weapons, their vehicles, even their uniforms to commit such violations...

    Why can't us citizens pursue a criminal or civil forfeiture against the property of a criminal organization?

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