Jeff Sessions wants to increase police power to seize cash and property from suspects without any criminal charges or a conviction.
The Washington Post reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Monday that he will be issuing a new directive making it easier for local police to seize property and cash from criminal suspects. The key word here is “suspects.” What this means is that a person does not have to be indicted or charged for a criminal act, they only have to be a suspect for local police to confiscate their property, and even sell it.
Asset forfeiture is a highly disputed practice. It allows law enforcement to take possessions — such as cars and money — without indictments or evidence a crime has been committed. Obviously, convicted drug dealers and other criminals should not be allowed to keep the proceeds from their illegal trades, but they need to be convicted first. Under Sessions’ new directive, that would not necessarily happen. Police could confiscate property and cash when they want to.
The Washington Post wrote that since 2007 the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has seized more than 3 billion dollars from people not charged with a crime. The practice is ripe for abuse. In one case in 2016, Oklahoma police seized $53,000 owned by a Christian band, an orphanage and a church after stopping a man on a highway for a broken tail light. There are 13 states that only allow appropriation of assets if there has been a conviction. PBS quoted Sessions on Monday: “ that such a practice — called adoptive forfeiture — is “appropriate, as is sharing with our partners.”
Eric Holder, Attorney General under former President Obama, limited law enforcement’s ability to seize assets, turn them over to the federal government, and share in the proceeds. Sessions is going to overturn Holder’s previous directives.
Robert Everett Johnson, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, said “Any return to federal adoptive forfeitures would “circumvent limitations on civil forfeiture that are imposed by state legislatures … the Department of Justice is saying ‘we’re going to help state and local law enforcement to get around those reforms.’”
The Justice Department did not return a request for comments by the Washington Post.