Litigation » Critics Left & Right Blast Session’s Call For Asset Seizure

Critics Left & Right Blast Session’s Call For Asset Seizure

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July 21, 2017

Attorney General Jeff Session’s announcement that the Justice Department will again embrace the policy known as civil forfeiture, rolling back Obama-administration reforms, has unleashed a flurry of criticism from both ends of the political spectrum. Civil forfeiture, says an editorial in the conservative National Review, is a “constitutionally questionable process whereby property – often cash – is taken from citizens by police agencies who suspect, or at least say they suspect, that the property may have been come by illegally.” Sessions ought to reconsider his position, the National review says, and if he doesn’t, or even if he does, Congress should deal with it. Under civil forfeiture, assets can be seized without the owner being convicted of, or even charged with, a crime. Assets may be turned over to the local law enforcement agency that seized them. Session’s policy directive, among other provisions, revives the DOJ’s so-called Equitable Sharing Program, which had been cut back under Obama. That program established a federal government pool that could receive the assets and then return 80 percent of their value back to the state or local law enforcement agency that seized them, thus circumventing some state laws that limited the practice. The National Review calls the Equitable Sharing Program “official money-laundering.” Both the Institute for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union were among the groups that condemned the DOJ policy decision, and Republican Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, quoted in an article in The Atlantic by editor Matt Ford, calls it “a big-government scheme to take people’s property without due process.” Whatever happens in the near future, the policy is likely living on borrowed time, according to Ford. He notes that although earlier this year the Supreme Court declined to take up a case challenging civil forfeiture, Justice Clarence Thomas seized the opportunity to denounce the practice, calling it a system that allowed to police to “seize property with limited judicial oversight and retain it for their own use.” It has led to egregious and well-documented abuses, according to Thomas, frequently targeting “the poor and other groups least able to defend their interests in forfeiture proceedings.”

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