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Jeff Sessions Announces Justice Department Will Increase Asset Forfeiture

“No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime,” Sessions says of law that lets police take cash without charging anyone with a crime.

Ron Sachs/dpa/picture-alliance/NewscomRon Sachs/dpa/picture-alliance/NewscomU.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Justice Department will issue new directives to increase the federal govenment's use of civil asset forfeiture, a controversial practice that allows law enforcement to seize property from suspected criminals without charging them with a crime.

Speaking at a National District Attorneys Association conference in Minneapolis Monday, Sessions said state and local law enforcement could expect changes from U.S. Attorneys in several areas: increased prosecution of gun crimes, immigration offenses, gang activity, and prescription drug abuse, as well as increased asset seizure by the federal government.

"[W]e hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture—especially for drug traffickers," Sessions said. "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."

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment and for more information about the directive.

Asset forfeiture became a prized hammer in law enforcement's tool chest in the 1980s, when the government was struggling to combat organized drug cartels. Law enforcement groups say the laws allow them to disrupt drug trafficking operations by targeting their proceeds—cars, cash, and guns.

However, the practice has exploded since then, and civil liberties groups and political advocacy organizations, both liberal and conservative, say the perverse profit incentives and lack of due process for property owners lead to far more average citizens having their property seized than cartel bosses.

The Justice Department plays a huge role in asset forfeiture through its Equitable Sharing Program, which allows state and local police to have their forfeiture cases "adopted" by the federal government. The feds take over the case, and the seized money is put into the equitable sharing pool. In return, the department gets up to 80 percent of those funds back. The equitable sharing program distributes hundreds of millions of dollars a year to police departments around the country.

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."

Data on asset forfeiture backs up what Thomas says. A Reason investigation of more than 23,000 police seizures in Cook County, Illinois over the last five years showed that Chicago's poor neighborhoods were hit hardest by asset forfeiture. A similar investigation of Mississippi court records showed that law enforcement recorded many big hauls of cash, but the records were also littered with petty and abusive seizures.

A 2014 Washington Post investigative series found that warrantless police seizures of cash through the equitable sharing program have boomed since 9/11, hauling in $2.5 billion. Also in 2014, for the first time ever, the U.S. government seized more property from Americans than burglars did.

More than twenty states have passed some form of asset forfeiture reform in recent years, but forfeiture opponents say the equitable sharing fund essentially allows local and state police to avoid those new laws by going through the federal government.

Responding to increasing media scrutiny and public outcry, former Attorney General Eric Holder took limited steps in 2015 to reform the Justice Department's equitable sharing program.

Although the details have yet to be released, Sessions' directive appears likely to loosen the restrictions on "adoptions" of forfeiture cases by the federal government—an alarming prospect for opponents of asset forfeiture.

"Reversing the ban on adoptive seizures would revive one of the most notorious forms of forfeiture abuse," Sheth said. "So-called 'adoptive' seizures allow state and local law enforcement to circumvent state-law limitations on civil forfeiture by seizing property and then transferring it to federal prosecutors for forfeiture under federal law. Bringing back adoptive seizures would create a road map to circumvent state-level forfeiture reforms."

Sessions' upcoming directive to increase asset forfeiture comes as little surprise. Sessions, a former prosecutor and U.S. senator, has been a stalwart defender of asset forfeiture throughout his career. He has already dismantled Obama-era directives on drug sentencing guidelines and ordered a review of all of the existing consent agreements between the Justice Department and police departments that were found to be violating residents' constitutional rights.

Another Republican critic of asset forfeiture, 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."

Photo Credit: Ron Sachs/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom

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  • Crusty Juggler :)||

    U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Justice Department will issue new directives to increase the federal govenment's use of civil asset forfeiture

    Jesus Tapdancing Christ.

  • Gene||

    I remember agreeing with groovus and southenboy that Sessions wouldn't be all that bad, all the talk of drug war doom was mere hyperbole or sumthin.

    Oops.

  • BYODB||

    Well, apparently Sessions isn't savvy about that whole 'constitution' thing after all.

    I guess this is solidly in the 'fuck Trump' category. I suspect one of the qualifications to become AG is that you need to be a prick.

  • Paul E||

    I remember thinking the same thing, we would finally get some sensible law enforcement at the federal level. But naw... F* that S*! Lets just start stealing peoples money and tossing weed smokers in federal prison!!! It isn't like we have more important things to do!!!

    Republicans are pretty much the reason I'm done with the Republican Party.

  • Bubba Jones||

    Not sure how someone could troll Reason for more than 1/2 an hour and still vote Republican.

    I admit to preferring Republican to Democrat, but there is no reason to soil my soul by actually voting for them.

  • Some Jerk||

    Really? I took it as a given that we'd be getting a dump truck of generic police state bullshit. My fear was him re-enacting that Wire Season 4 scene where they shut down Hamsterdam while Ride of the Valkyries plays. A massive multi-billion multi-state 10,000 cop Operation Weed Barbarossa to break the recreational market.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime.

    Unless wearing a badge.

  • Hank Phillips||

    This opens possibilities. How about a criminal information naming Sessions for conspiracy to commit aggressive war crimes. At Nuremberg, only Americans sought to prosecute for conspiracy, mainly out of habit formed during enforcement of the Volstead Act during the War on Light Beer. Still, more than one Commander in Chief has described Prohibition 2.0 as "war on drugs" (meaning war on some people, social drug users). Judges were tried at Nuremberg and a Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland, Burt Lancaster and William Shatner movie resulted. Efforts to indict for aggressive warfare floundered because no true Frenchman could conceive of aggression as bad unless someone else was doing it to them. But barely a year went by before Ayn Rand developed the non-aggression pledge and defined the act as "the initiation of force." So, war is war, right?

  • KerryW||

    No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime.

    Don't you have to be convicted of a crime to be called a criminal? Not in Jeff Session's America, apparently.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    No. Being convicted makes you a convicted criminal.

    Three felonies a day...

  • Hank Phillips||

    Just the point of convicting Sessions for war crimes under the Geneva Convention. Assistant Attorney-General Mabel Walker Willebrandt, the Harding appointee who served under Coolidge and Hoover, developed the asset-forfeiture strategy. She quit when Bert didn't elevate her to A.G.. Later, she made the news by getting a speeding ticket.

  • Dillinger||

    >>>Speaking at a National District Attorneys Association conference in Minneapolis Monday, Sessions said

    "tell your stupid cops to stop shooting everybody *but* the criminals."

  • Bubba Jones||

    lol

  • perlchpr||

    This guy's seriously like fuckin' Darth Vader.

  • Dillinger||

    Darth Vader evoked sympathy.

  • timbo||

    Darth even felt bad for a while.

    These sub-human politicians are sociopaths.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Counterpoint: Darth Vader was played by Hayden Christiansen.

  • Crusty Juggler :)||

    The world's most underappreciated actor?

  • Netizen_James||

    I'm sorry, to me, Darth Vader was only ever played by David Prowse, and voiced by James Earl Jones.

    those other movies don't count! :-)

  • Paper Wasp||

    When Darth Vader was played by Stewie Griffin, sure.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    No, Vader had better things to do with his time. Like hunt down rebel scum.

  • timbo||

    These dumbasses have no idea how futile their existence is.

  • Crusty Juggler :)||

    C.J. provides consistent Balko-ian nut-punches. Uhhh...thanks?

  • AlmightyJB||

    AG's a thugs and thieves by nature

  • Number 7||

    "[W]e hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture—especially for drug traffickers,"

    he seems to be acknowledging that asset forfeiture is not used exclusively for drug traffickers as was originally intended.

  • Hugh Akston||

    I forget who says "Christ, what an asshole," but he needs to post here soon.

  • timbo||

    Was Christ an asshole? I thought the story portrays him as almost the opposite.

  • perlchpr||

    He certainly has lived down to expectations, hasn't he?

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    This fucking turd.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Christ, what an asshole.

    Sessions seems determined to live down to all the worse stereotypes of southern law 'n' order conservatives types. If he were to fall victim to a tragic woodchipper related accident I wouldn't shed a tear.

  • Fk_Censorship||

    Watch out, he might make you forfeit your assets for this joke.

  • SUPERHEAVYDOODY||

    This is the kind of thing that started a revolution once.

  • ChipToBeSquare||

    The evil drow continues in his quest to appease Lolth, the Spider Queen

    I wish the left had devoted half the energy they spent on Betsy DeVos on eviscerating this man's ideas. Not his character, but his toxic and evil ideas

  • Omnissiah||

    I wish the right had devoted any energy at all on eviscerating this man's ideas. Oh well.

  • Leo Kovalensky||

    Thanks, Rand.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    This is an impetus to seek actual legislative relief to these problems. Instead of relying on the good nature of the DoJ. Sessions himself pointed that out at his confirmation hearing. Don't want him to enforce a law? Then change or remove it.

    Everyone needs to be pushing their congress critters to ban asset forfeiture and make changes to the existing drug laws.

  • Bubba Jones||

    States need to prevent the adoption strategy. Require local law enforcement to return 103% of all civil forfeitures to the state treasury. the 3% is a processing fee.

  • Tony Openshirt||

    Sawed-off little peckerwood.

  • Thomas O.||

    We warned them at the beginning of the year. Sessions was gonna be a dick. He would double down on the war on weed and civil asset forfeiture.

    BUT NOOOOOOOOO!!!

    The Democrats were mean to him at the confirmation hearings, so because of THAT they approved him!

    Thanks a fucking lot for letting your TEAM emotion override common sense, lawmaker assholes.

  • Rockabilly||

    The USA has moved so far to the left that assholes like Sessions have no fucking idea that he is a fucking commie rat turd. Fuck you asshole !!!!

  • Rockabilly||

    Yea,, Sessions, fuck you asshole commie rat turd. My great great grandad made moonshine and fought against commie rats like you!!! Cut off your cock and throw it away...

  • DenverJ||

    Had this asshat spent the last 40 years in a cave? All the rest of society learned, at least a little, from some of the worst mistakes re law enforcement. But not this fucker. Noooo, he's going to double down on the drug war, asset forfeiture, etc.
    Seasons and McCain should be shipped off to the old conservatives home to bitch about kids being on the lawn.

  • Robert||

    He has already dismantled Obama-era directives on drug sentencing guidelines and ordered a review of all of the existing consent agreements between the Justice Department and police departments that were found to be violating residents' constitutional rights.


    How's that sentence supposed to be parsed? I can't tell if that's good or bad.

  • Bubba Jones||

    I think that means he is taking the leash off shitty local cops.

  • IceTrey||

    Jesus, I guess Antifa is right.

  • Theodoric||

    Fuck you to hell you fascist scumbag. You're a lying little prick. The only reason you're AG is because of a criminal conspiracy.

  • Longtobefree||

    Sounds like a criminal conspiracy to violate the civil rights of everyone.
    I recommend we seize all of his assets to disrupt this conspiracy. And the assets of his entire department.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Or we could just work on actually changing the law so they have nothing to be discretionary about in the first place.

  • Rogers1234||

    Neither the United States nor any state or political subdivision thereof shall seize the assets of anybody unless they have been duly convicted of a criminal act and those assets have been proven to be the proceeds of that criminal act or the tools thereof.
    No person shall be subject to prosecution for resisting or interfering with the violation of this statute, even if said resistance or interference causes the loss of human life.
    Any law enforcement agent of the United States who shall violate this statute shall be subject to prosecution under the appropriate state statute.
    The benefits inherent in this statute shall not be dependent on compliance.
    Neither the Supreme Court nor its inferior courts shall have juristiction over the constitutional validity of this statute.

  • Bubba Jones||

    We already have "nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

    And yet...

  • Thomas O.||

    To paraphrase the late great Clara Peller, WHERE'S THE BILLS?

    I see article after article about the MJ-reform bills being introduced, but that's it. Who are the dickbags holding these bills up in the Committee Dead Zone?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Sessions really blows

  • ||

    The Department has an obligation to consider due process constraints

    This surely must have been said in jest.

  • damikesc||

    I think the writer forgot to mention the use of "air quotes" in that comment.

  • Stilgar||

    Funny how all the Trumptard commenters are silent. Or weren't they paid to comment in this thread?

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Who the fuck are you?

  • TGoodchild||

    "A Reason investigation of more than 23,000 police seizures in Cook County, Illinois over the last five years showed that Chicago's poor neighborhoods were hit hardest by asset forfeiture. "

    Programs designed to undermine criminal activity turn out to be used most frequently where criminal activity occurs most often? :-|

  • MSimon||

    nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;

  • damikesc||

    Can Sessions intelligently differentiate civil asset forfeiture from just simple mugging?

    I mean, I can't, but maybe he can.

  • generalisimo14||

    A mugger doesn't have a special tin badge.

  • Curt2004||

    Don't be so sure...

  • pabloat8000||

    This article and the comments are hilarious. The 0bama justice department spent 8 years militarizing our nation's police forces' tactics, weapons, and training under your noses. Now people wake up?!?!? Because of something Sessions said?!?!?
    Look at the deeds. Mere words have literally become meaningless in 2017. And, yes, that's the correct use of the word literally.
    When words meant something:
    "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall..."

  • Bubba Jones||

    There have been a thousand articles about police militarization. The point is that it was being reversed at the local level and now the feds seem to be reinstating a loophole to overcome that.

  • generalisimo14||

    "No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime,"

    I agree!

    This would be great, but aren't we considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law?

  • Butler T. Reynolds||

    C'mon #MAGA derps! Where are you? You're not going to call anyone a cuck for trashing Trump's AG?

  • MSimon||

    Hillary.

  • aed939||

    Asset forfeiture should be expanded as long as due process is followed. So nothing is taken until there is a conviction or settlement, and appeals are exhausted or waived, and the judge sets the terms of the forfeiture by which the defendant willingly releases the assets. No cops physically seizing the assets. The only exception being to remove dangerous items like drugs and firearms (but not autos, etc.). I am particularly against seizure of cash or docking bank accounts of the accused because this has the effect of handicapping the defendant.

  • King's Ransom||

    Sessions is a shitbird but the fact that any court ever upholds this horseshit is even worse. Due process my asshole, toodles 5th amendment, time to go buy another AK-47 while the 2nd holds its ground.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Let's just get the fucking law changed. I bring this up over and over again. Every time it's fuckng crickets. You would all rather bitch and whine as opposed to getting concrete legislative relief on this shit.

    Nothing but fucking whiners and hand wringers.

  • Thomas O.||

    People are trying. CARERS Act et al. end up in the Committee Dead Zone. Who do we need to badger to get those bills to an actual vote???

  • XenoZooValentine||

    This deal's getting worse all the time.

  • MSimon||

    ++++++++++^100

  • Cloudbuster||

    This is how you get more woodchippers.

  • Memory Hole||

    I just watched the little elvish Nazi sweating like the pig on Fox News.

  • LEAPGuyAZ||

    What about asset forfeiture to white collar crime and political financial crimes?

  • tfsyrala7lam||

    I think the writer forgot to mention the use of "air quotes" in that comment.
    mzkrat-mrag3at | here

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