Holder Puts Limits on Civil Asset Forfeiture

Attorney General Eric Holder has (almost) done away with a federal program that allowed local police agencies to seize cash and property under federal authority and then split the proceeds with the federal government (they typically got about 80% of what they seized this way).

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without evidence that a crime occurred.

Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.

Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing.

The program has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them “adopted” by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds. The program allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of the adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.

“With this new policy, effective immediately, the Justice Department is taking an important step to prohibit federal agency adoptions of state and local seizures, except for public safety reasons,” Holder said in a statement.

Holder’s decision allows some limited exceptions, including illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography, a small fraction of the total. This would eliminate virtually all cash and vehicle seizures made by local and state police from the program.

This is a very good step in the right direction, though it’s not nearly enough. Police can still seize such property under state laws and they will no doubt continue to do so. What really needs to be done is the complete repeal of the civil asset forfeiture laws and the proper enforcement of the 4th Amendment, which would require that the government cannot seize any property whatsoever on the grounds that it was gained through crime or used in the commission of a crime until they prove in court that the crime took place and that the property was involved.

"Sorry, but attending a gala honoring someone is something you either voluntarily attend or not. ..."

How to Think Critically About the ..."
"Wow... this is rich... Aussies have more than just Kenny Ham to get entertained by.As ..."

Swanson: God Will Punish Australia for ..."
"True critical and rational thought would acknowledge that false accusations are extremely rare, but that ..."

How to Think Critically About the ..."
"To clarify... I meant groping a grown woman vs. “dating”, i.e. “molesting” a 14 year ..."

How to Think Critically About the ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • cholten99

    Ed, I agree that this is a good thing in terms of removing the police’s ability to randomly seize citizen’s property.

    However, some have said that because this agrees with what we (liberals) want it makes us blind to the fact that the Executive Branch is again choosing to impose a national interpretation of a law without recourse to Congress or the courts.

    In this instance it works very nicely for us but isn’t this kind of precedent, like signing statements, another thing that may be misused by future members of the Executive Branch?

  • Artor

    Cholten, since asset forfeiture (read: theft) is a clear violation of the 4th Amendment protections against unlawful seizure, it is the duty of all branches of gov’t to halt it. The shameful part is that it was instituted in the first place, and ran for 30 years without anyone taking action. If following the Constitution sets any kind of precedent, I’m okay with that.

  • eric

    Holder’s decision allows some limited exceptions, including illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography

    If by ‘property’ they mean computers containing the images and stuff like that, I’m fine with that. But if by ‘property’ they mean the house, that seems a bit wierd. Ostensibly I guess the motive is to prevent the criminal from profiting after the crime. But it looks like the government is trying to stop an accused from accessing any equity they could use to mount a defense, to essentially deny them an adequate defense. It also brings up absurd comparisons, almost like the government deciding that a house is haunted by the victim of a murder and so they’re going to take it.

  • matty1

    @3 I would class taking the computers as gathering evidence rather than asset forfeiture, which as you say is supposed about preventing people profiting from a crime not proving they committed it.

  • karmacat

    Getting a decent law out of congress seems to be getting more difficult. It’s frustrating to watch

  • Michael Heath

    cholten99 writes:

    . . . some have said that because this agrees with what we (liberals) want it makes us blind to the fact that the Executive Branch is again choosing to impose a national interpretation of a law without recourse to Congress or the courts.

    [Heath bolded]

    “. . . some have said” doesn’t work very well around here. It’s no better than, “some guy on the Internet claimed . . . “.

    Why are you concluding that the Congress or even the states can’t sue the Executive in federal court? And why are you also concluding that the DOJ’s new policy violates legislation passed by Congress and signed into law? I didn’t see anything in the article that Ed quotes above making either claim.

    And as Artor rightly noted, the Executive Branch’s first duty is to defend the Constitution, not violate it. The Equitable Sharing program practiced in the past appears to me to be an obvious infringement on individual rights protected by the 4th Amendment; an infringement where the federal government is instead constitutionally bound to defend against such infringements at all levels of government.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    … the seizures began three decades ago …

    Didn’t this whole Reaganista “asset forfeiture” business get a big push from a senator from Delaware named Joe Biden? I wonder how he feels about having one of his legislative babies put down by a lame-duck AG…