Civil Asset Forfeiture

Wonderful Asset Forfeiture News: Justice Department Temporarily Halts "Equitable Sharing" Program

Thanks to budget cuts, for a while local cops can't get federal payoffs for stealing property allegedly connected to drugs.


Budget cuts can be glorious things: the Department of Justice announces this week that, thanks to cuts in its budget of an initial $746 million in November's Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, followed up by a wondrous addition $458 million rescission in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 that became law law last week, it is temporarily halting its so-called "equitable sharing" program.

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This federal program, as Scott Shackford explained it here last month:

allows law enforcement agencies to partner with the DOJ to seize assets and distributes up to 80 percent of it back to the local police. This system often allows law enforcement agencies to completely bypass any regulations placed by states to restrain the profit motive for law enforcement agencies by either requiring more proof before they can seize assets or permitting them to keep only a smaller percentage (or none) of what they seize. State participation the Equitable Sharing program blasted off between 2000 and 2013, zooming from $198 million in annual revenue to $643 million.

The Justice Department isn't declaring defeat for all time to its local partners in crime, though. The memo from M. Kendall Day, Chief Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, goes on to say that:

 By deferring equitable sharing payments now, we preserve our ability to resume equitable sharing payments at a later date should the budget picture improve….We explored every conceivable option that would have enabled us to preserve some form of meaningful equitable sharing while continuing to operate the Program and meet our other fiscal obligations. Unfortunately, the combined effect of the two reductions totaling $1.2 billion made that impossible.  

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition celebrated the news in a press release today, with a hat tip to our reporting here at Reason, and the observation that:

Civil forfeiture cases in most states require the lowest burden of proof ("preponderance of evidence") to make a seizure. Since the cost of contesting the case in court is usually more than the value of the property seized, most people never challenge the case and permanently lose their property. In 35 states, the burden of proof is placed on the property owner, meaning that after the property is seized, it's up to the owner to prove that they weren't involved in the alleged crime…

In November, the Institute for Justice published Policing For Profit, 2nd Edition to outline the major problems that have resulted from civil asset forfeiture. Between 1997 and 2013, 87% of Department of Justice seizures were civil and just 13% were criminal. This means that only 13% of people who had their property seized by law enforcement during this time were ever charged with a crime. 

The "equitable sharing" program should, in the name of justice itself if not the Justice Department, be halted forever, because of its essential nature as organized theft mostly from people who have never actually committed a crime for which any punishment is warranted.

But this budget-driven temporary halt is a start. When the Republic doesn't fall if law enforcement isn't paid off via this particular program for a while for stealing things from citizens for indecent reasons, perhaps a new day of common sense will dawn at the very least for this federal incentive for local misbehavior. Then perhaps civil forfeiture in general could be reconsidered for its injustice if not its budgetary concerns.

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  1. Good news: the local cops no longer have an incentive to team up with the feds to steal property from people.

    Bad news: the feds are now using stolen property to make up for budget cuts, so presumably they’re going to look for more people to rob.

    1. There a lot fewer Federales than local banditti…so there is that going for us.

      1. But as the federales decrease in number, local government looters–the ones gunning people down in cold blood in myriad police brutality videos–have increased fourfold since Nixon was vice-president. They are the catspaw federal looters used until their excesses destroyed property values in 2007. The WSJ publishe numbers on number of parasites per host, and many sources published mortgage crash intensity maps showing which states were most heavily affected. Contemplate these…

  2. perhaps a new day of common sense will dawn

    Somebody has been hitting the brandied egg-nog!

    1. It’s so cute when they get hopelessly, romantically optimistic!

      1. It’s the cosmo way. They’re having the 12 libertarian moments of Christmas.

        1. Where’s Remy?!?

  3. Nothing left to cut!

  4. Wait, what do you guys have against sharing? It’s Christmas, you grinchy Scrooges, you need to get into the spirit!

  5. War on cops! The pushers have won and now your children will be turned into marijuana zombies!

    1. …and the problem is ?

  6. First sentence would be better if it read:

    “the so-called Department of Justice … is temporarily halting its so-called “equitable sharing” program.”

  7. Starve the Beast !

    It’s the only answer.

    Does everyone here know that due to base line budgeting the Fed. Gov budget grows automatically by an increase of 7% per year ? That means that the Fed. Gov budget doubles in size every 10 years. This growth rate is unsustainable. The private sector does not grow at this rate. The lefties crow about sustainable everything except goernment .

    The only exceptions to the 7% base line growth is when attention is given to specific issues or agencies.

    So while the Dept. of Justice claims it budget was cut by 1.2 billion during ths time period it’s quite possible the net effect was still an increase in its budget . i didn’t bother with the math)

    1. [citation needed] especially for something which doesn’t pass the most cursory back-of-the-envelope smell test.

      1. According to OMB data, the average growth rate in federal outlays over the last 30 years has been about 5% year-over-year. That translates into a doubling time of about 14 years.

        There is no built-in rate of increase; in fact, “baseline budgeting” means that you start off this year’s appropriations at the level of last year’s expenditures. The only exceptions I know of are transfer payments; i.e., the number and amount of SS checks varies “automatically” but the SSA doesn’t get a commensurate increase to salaries and operational funding “automatically”.

    2. And if you only raise the budget by 6% instead of 7%, you’ve made massive cuts in the government that are going to kill children, minorities and the poor.

  8. You know who else seized things that didn’t belong to them?

    1. Jew bankers?

  9. Only the government would abandon a profit center due to budget cuts.

    1. I don’t read it this way at all. As I read the announcement, the so-called “Department of Justice” is just saying that they’re keeping the money despite prior arrangements with local law enforcement.

      Although I am somewhat pleased that local law enforcement will not receive their agreed-upon cut of the so-called “equitable sharing” of the booty they have seized, it is offset by the fact that the “Department of Justice” will retain it.

      There’s little good news in this. First, the property won’t be restored to its rightful owners. It’s just budgetary legerdemain. Second, it’s temporary.

      Another thing: Holder announced that he was ending “equitable sharing” back in January. Evidently, that changed nothing.

      1. But terminating the sharing aspect will reduce the incentive of local cops to seize assets, especially in states which have left federal sharing as the only avenue to profiting from asset forfeiture.

        Imagine a car manufacturer eliminating dealer incentive programs while maintaining the MSRP.

        That’s what I mean by eliminating a profit center.

  10. Every time the Political State embarks upon another orgy of asset forfeiture, the economy collapses into a recession. “Too many” parasites is precisely the number that sickens and kills an organism. After his throughcrime pronouncement that only governments can ruin an economy, Adam Smith observed: “The whole, or almost the whole public revenue is in most countries employed in maintaining unproductive hands. … Such people, as they themselves produce nothing, are all maintained by the produce of other men’s labour.” Veterinary science has a clearer picture of reality than political science.

  11. As one who has subscribed to REASON Magazine for several years, I have always appreciated the quality of the research and reporting done by its various writers. I wish I could say the same about the article on Asset Forfeitures. To punish local and state law enforcement for the abuses of certain federal agencies is simply wrong.

    Whenever there is a partnership of local and federal law enforcement in an investigation that results in a forfeiture action, there is always a criminal action and usually a conviction of the person(s) charged. Local law enforcement does not engage in some of the abuses cited as examples.

    Local and state law enforcement have always had the ability to cease the fruits of the crime or any instrumentality that made the crime possible. Whenever they find it necessary to team up with a federal agency, usually the FBI or DEA, the participation in a property seizure allows the local or state agency to get reimbursement for the cost of its participation in the criminal investigation.

    Do not confuse this effort with the abuses of the IRS or EPA or other regulatory agencies of the federal government. The REASON article is misleading and simply wrong

    The current administration in Washington is gutting not only this program but also the surplus property program that has provided local and state law enforcement with resources.

    Paul J. Marino, Esq.

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