Officials Voice Concern Over DOJ Forfeiture Policy

July 20, 2017 by

The U.S. Department of Justice released an updated policy and guidelines on federal “adoptions” of local or state seized assets, reversing the previous directive from former Attorney General Eric Holder which placed a ban on “adoptive” seizures.

A federally adopted forfeiture is when a state or local agency seizes assets, but requests that a federal agency take the seized assets and forfeits them under federal law.

“The Department’s new policy strengthens the civil asset forfeiture program to better protect victims of crime and innocent property owners, while streamlining the process to more easily dismantle criminal and terrorist organizations,” reads the press release accompanying the policy. However, the only way to truly strengthen protections for innocent property owners is by abolishing civil asset forfeiture, which many states have moved to do.

Civil asset forfeiture was again a topic in Texas’ most recent legislative session, with State Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) filing a bill that would have added the Lone Star State to the list of states doing away with the practice.

Unfortunately, the bill did not become law or even receive a hearing, but today Burton issued a response to the policy change:

“I am extremely disappointed in the decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind certain policies implemented by his predecessors which limited the federal scope and use of civil asset forfeiture. While the A.G. has added some new safeguards against abuse, he is once again allowing law enforcement to potentially circumvent stricter state forfeiture laws and utilize weaker federal laws at the expense of the rights of the individual.”

The DOJ memo went on to refer to forfeiture as an “effective tool” and called for the department to prioritize seizures that will help advance the overall goal of the department.

Just days ago, Sessions announced that he intended on rolling out policy that would “increase forfeitures.” At the time, Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Darpana Sheth said, “Today’s announcement is a disheartening setback in the fight to protect Americans’ private property rights. Ordinary Americans see that civil asset forfeiture is unconstitutional, and 24 states have taken steps to roll back civil forfeiture laws.”

A report from the Cato Institute shows that 84 percent of Americans oppose the practice of civil asset forfeiture. Their survey showed that the attitude is the same amongst different demographic groups. “In fact, virtually every major group surveyed solidly rejects the practice and prefers property only be seized after a person is convicted of crime.”

Along with Burton, Cong. Darrell Issa (R-California) released a statement calling the decision troubling, and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) said, “back in May I encouraged the Department of Justice to review its policies on civil asset forfeiter in light of increasing indications from the Supreme Court that this practice is constitutionally suspect. Instead of revising forfeiture practices in a manner to better protect Americans’ due process rights, the DOJ seems determined to lose in court before it changes its policies for the better.”

Most seem in agreement that this policy change will just further the growth of government and widen the net of abuse, especially those with limited means to fight back.


About the Author

Charles operates the Houston office for Empower Texans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.