Holder Puts Limits on Civil Asset Forfeiture

Holder Puts Limits on Civil Asset Forfeiture January 19, 2015

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.

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