Asset Forfeiture

Jeff Sessions Lets Cops Be Robbers

The attorney general revives a program that invites law enforcement agencies to evade state limits on asset forfeiture.

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Donald Trump made two things abundantly clear during a meeting with county sheriffs last February: He did not know what civil asset forfeiture was, and he wanted to see more of it. The president will get his wish thanks to a directive issued last week by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has a clearer idea of what civil forfeiture entails but is only slightly more sensitive to its potential for abuse.

That potential is built into the very concept of civil forfeiture, which allows police to take property allegedly tied to crime without charging the owner. Worse, law enforcement agencies get to keep revenue generated by forfeitures they initiate, which gives them a financial incentive to target people based on the assets they own rather than the threat they pose.

In theory, the government can forfeit a seized asset only after proving it is a tool or fruit of crime, typically drug trafficking. But the burden of proof is much lighter than in a criminal case, and it applies only if the owner challenges the seizure in court, which often costs more than the asset is worth.

Recognizing how easily innocent people can lose cash, cars, and homes to money-hungry cops, two dozen states and the District of Columbia have reformed their forfeiture laws since 2014. The changes include mandating data collection and reporting, strengthening standards of proof, and requiring a criminal conviction before some or all forfeitures.

By reviving federal "adoption" of forfeitures initiated by state or local agencies, Sessions is offering cops who chafe at these restrictions the option of ignoring them. Adoption, which Attorney General Eric Holder mostly eliminated in 2015, lets police and prosecutors evade state limits on forfeiture and keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds.

Seven states prohibit or restrict such circumvention. But in the rest, cops who do not like reforms aimed at protecting innocent property owners from legalized theft can once again easily dodge them with help from the Justice Department.

Although Sessions pays lip service to the need for safeguards, he argues that innocent owners are rare. "Over the last decade," he says, "four out of five administrative civil asset forfeitures filed by federal law enforcement agencies were never challenged in court."

According to Sessions, that means only a "small minority of cases" involve people whose property was seized for questionable reasons. But since challenging a forfeiture is difficult and may be prohibitively expensive, the failure to do so is hardly an admission of guilt.

Sessions says a state or local agency seeking federal adoption of a forfeiture will have to provide "information demonstrating that the seizure was justified by probable cause." But in practice probable cause may be little more than a hunch—e.g., you've got a lot of cash, so you must be a drug dealer. And given the obstacles to recovering seized property, such vague, unsubstantiated suspicions may be all the government needs to keep it.

The Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act, reintroduced by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in March, would withdraw Sessions' invitation to forfeiture abuse by abolishing federal adoption along with the rest of the Justice Department's so-called Equitable Sharing Program, which includes loot grabbed in the course of joint operations. The FAIR Act, which has bipartisan support, also would strengthen the standard of proof in federal forfeiture cases, require the government to show that the owner of seized property consented or was willfully blind to its illegal use, give indigent owners a right to counsel, and assign forfeiture revenue to the general fund instead of the Justice Department.

Reforms like these should be supported by anyone who believes forfeiture "has become a tool for unscrupulous law enforcement officials, acting without due process, to profit by destroying the livelihood of innocent individuals, many of whom never recover the lawful assets taken from them." Those words should sound familiar to the president. They are part of his party's platform.

© Copyright 2017 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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14 responses to “Jeff Sessions Lets Cops Be Robbers

  1. I’ll say it again, if the right is not all-in for the protection of property rights and due process, who will be?

    1. Us, I guess. We shall fight in the shade?

  2. As school kids, we were taught about the robber barons of the early 20th century, like John D. Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt.

    But it’s abundantly clear who the true robber barons are, eh Mr Sessions?

    1. Say whatever you want about those historical figures, but at least they provided actual working products. No one accused them of selling bad oil, or non-functioning railroads, or steel made of cardboard.

      But please explain what a parasite provides? Has Sessions and his ilk ever provided any service or product of any value in exchange for all the takings? I’m all ears.

      1. Has Sessions and his ilk ever provided any service or product of any value in exchange for all the takings?

        TEH ROADZ!!!1!1111!!!!!!!!!!11!!! /sarc

  3. Reforms like these should be supported by anyone who believes forfeiture “has become a tool for unscrupulous law enforcement officials, acting without due process, to profit by destroying the livelihood of innocent individuals, many of whom never recover the lawful assets taken from them.” Those words should sound familiar to the president. They are part of his party’s platform.

    Sadly, I think reform is supported, but only by a minority. There’s still a huge chunk of people who think the police are your friend and the government is there to help you. Mention asset forfeiture to them and they support the idea of depriving drug lords of their ill-gotten gains. If there’s anecdotal evidence that one or two innocent people get caught up by acting suspiciously, well, they shouldn’t have been acting suspiciously. Like, really, why would you need to be carrying a large amount of cash around? Who does that? If you’re not a drug dealer, you sure look like one with all that cash and it’s entirely reasonable that the cops would assume you’re a drug dealer. And that’s all the more they think of it – do stupid things, win stupid prizes, amirite?

    1. ^THIS. I get that a lot, too.

      “Oh, that’s only for cartels” or “that does NOT happen to regular people” or, like you said, “you’re just asking for attention from the police if you’re carrying around large amounts of cash. Of course you seem suspicious, they’re just trying to take down the bad guys.”

      Who keeps giving birth to all these bootlickers?

  4. Sessions’ contempt for the bill of rights should get his useless ass disbarred.

    -jcr

    1. your aunt violet got gohnnahepesphiliaids from a crusty and warty tag team at florida mans house

  5. Sessions should be facing trial for perjury.

  6. Here’s to hoping Sessions resigns and gets out of the way soon, as the circus comes to the AG. Unfortunately, it won’t be for reasons such as what this article covers and other assorted assaults on liberty, and his replacement could be nearly as awful.

  7. Cato’s Clark Neily said on Monday (see below) that a serious reform would involve disciplinary measures against officials who abuse the process.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnxcZUwBsZE

  8. Does it seem that *EVERY* Time Jeff Sessions opens his mouth it’s to spout more bullshit and anti-liberty rhetoric? Has he in fact done ANYTHING that isn’t an offence to the Constitution? Because it doesn’t seem that way.

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