Big, huge news on the civil asset forfeiture front: Eric Holder is ordering an end to most of the Department of Justice's Equitable Sharing Program. This is the program where the DOJ works with local law enforcement agencies for busts, and then the law enforcement agencies are permitted to keep 80 percent of the assets seized. It has been an incubator of the worst police abuses, as some agencies looked for any possible reason to take people's property without ever actually accusing them with a crime.
The Washington Post has the scoop:
"With this new policy, effective immediately, the Justice Department is taking an important step to prohibit federal agency adoptions of state and local seizures, except for public safety reasons," Holder said in a statement.
Holder's decision allows some limited exceptions, including illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography, a small fraction of the total. This would eliminate virtually all cash and vehicle seizures made by local and state police from the program.
While police can continue to make seizures under their own state laws, the federal program was easy to use and required most of the proceeds from the seizures to go to local and state police departments. Many states require seized proceeds to go into the general fund.
That difference between how the state and federal programs operate is important. The federal program is what encouraged the police abuse because the agencies got to keep the money (and cars, and whatever else they snatched). When the money goes into the general fund, not directly to the police, there goes the incentive for police to grab whatever they can get their hands on.
Read more here. This is an extremely important development in the civil asset forfeiture fight.
UPDATED: Read Holder's memo here. The order also excludes joint task forces, which limits some of the potential impact.
UPDATE II: After looking over the numbers and Holder's order more closely, it seems as though The Washington Post greatly overstated the impacts. Jacob Sullum has more here.