As we’ve discussed at length on our blog, Jeff Sessions has not only been busy establishing the priorities of the Department of Justice going forward, but also undoing some of the policies put in place by his predecessors since taking on the mantle of U.S. Attorney General.
Indeed, he outlined a new priority for the DOJ at the National District Attorney’s Association earlier this week, expressing his intention to issue a new directive in the coming days on a controversial law enforcement tactic: asset forfeiture.
What is asset forfeiture?
For those unfamiliar with asset forfeiture, it’s a practice whereby law enforcement officials permanently seize money and other property from those individuals suspected of criminal activity — typically drug-related in nature.
Why is it so controversial?
The controversy has to do with the fact that the asset forfeiture laws of most states — and even the federal government — dictate that law enforcement can permanently seize property absent a conviction or even the filing of criminal charges so long as there are reasonable grounds to believe it was secured in connection with a crime.
Furthermore, the laws of many states allow agencies to retain the property seized, something that detractors argue creates a sort of profit motive.
At least 13 states have changed their laws, however, to permit asset forfeiture only when a conviction is first secured.
How often does the federal government use this tactic?
Statistics show that in 2014 alone, the federal government seized more from citizens than was taken in burglaries. Breaking the numbers down further, the Drug Enforcement Administration has seized over $3 billion in cash from people never actually charged with any crime since 2007.
Have any efforts been made at the federal level to curtail this practice?
Two years ago, then-AG Eric Holder released a memo calling for federal authorities to largely abandon a type of asset forfeiture known as “adoptive forfeiture,” which enabled state and local officials to circumvent stricter state laws and proceed under more permissive federal laws. Some of the property seized would then be shared with the federal government.
What exactly did AG Sessions say concerning asset forfeiture?
In his speech on Monday, AG Sessions expressed that the DOJ would be relying even more heavily on asset forfeiture going forward and that “adoptive forfeitures are appropriate.”
Stay tuned for updates …
If you have been charged with any manner of federal offense or have seen your hard-earned assets seized by the federal government, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible.