Justice Department reinstates forfeiture program that returned seized assets to local police

Attorney General

Department of Justice


The U.S. Justice Department has announced it will reinstate a forfeiture program in which local police departments seize property connected to criminal activity that violates federal law, and then get to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told reporters Wednesday that new safeguards will prevent abuses, report the Washington Post, Reuters, BuzzFeed News and the Washington Examiner. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the same point in prepared remarks; the policy directive is here.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder had mostly eliminated the program, which allows seizure of property without a criminal conviction.

New guidelines require local police departments to demonstrate that a property seizure is justified by probable cause and to provide more training to officers on asset forfeiture laws. Federal officials will have to quickly send notice to property owners about the seizures.

When seized cash totals less than $10,000 additional safeguards may be required. Unless the U.S. Attorney’s office approves the forfeiture, the property must be seized under one of these conditions: under a state warrant, incident to arrest, at the same time contraband is seized, or when the owner or person from whom the property is seized admits the property comes from criminal activity.

Among those objecting to the Justice Department’s new policy are the American Civil Liberties Union and the Institute for Justice.

“Civil forfeiture is inherently abusive,” Institute for Justice senior attorney Darpana Sheth said in a statement. “No one should lose his or her property without being first convicted of a crime, let alone charged with one. The only safeguard to protect Americans from civil forfeiture is to eliminate its use altogether. The Department of Justice’s supposed safeguards amount to little more than window dressing of an otherwise outrageous abuse of power.”

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