Department of Justice

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to Order Increase in Asset Seizures

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

Speaking before the National District Attorneys Association on Monday, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the US Department of Justice plans to send out a directive to increase civil asset forfeiture efforts.

“With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures,” Sessions said in his prepared remarks.

Asset forfeiture laws allow law enforcement agencies to keep cash, cars, real estate, and other property that may be connected to a crime (most often a drug crime).

Many states have stricter asset seizure laws than those of the federal government, however police and sheriff’s departments in California and elsewhere circumvent their own states’ forfeiture laws through the Department of Justice’s Equitable Sharing Program, which creates a loophole that allows cops to use seized money as revenue—with only the suspicion that laws have been broken—by bringing the feds into an investigation.

The practice was originally intended as a weapon with which to break up large-scale criminal operations. Across the nation, however, local law enforcement agencies are using the tool to pad their budgets, often taking money and property from people who have not been charged with a crime.

Sessions’ directive will rollback former US Attorney General Eric Holder’s order barring federal agency forfeiture, or “adoptions,” of money and property taken in by state and local police—except for public safety purposes.

“Another extremist action,” Holder said in a tweet Monday. “This is a reform that was supported by conservatives and progressives, Republicans and Democrats.”

Between fiscal years 2000 and 2016, the Department of Justice’s Equitable Sharing Program distributed more than $6 billion in revenue to state and local law enforcement.

Back in April, the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report revealing that over the last decade, agencies seized billions of dollars from people never charged with (let alone convicted of) a crime.

AG Sessions said the directive to boost asset forfeiture practices will place a particular emphasis on drug trafficking. Yet, the April OIG report revealed that between 2007 and 2016, the Drug Enforcement Agency—the agency that accounts for the majority of all cash seizures—took more than $3.2 billion from civilians without charging the money’s owner with a crime.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz expressed concern that the DOJ “lacks the information and performance metrics it needs to assess the effectiveness of its seizure and forfeiture activities, and also to track the impact of those activities on civil liberties.”

In a majority of the seizures that the Office of the Inspector General analyzed, the DOJ could not verify if a seizure benefitted or even was related to a criminal investigation.

The report also found that the Justice Department does not require joint task force officers at either the state or local levels to participate in training on forfeiture laws before the officers can begin conducting federally sanctioned seizures.

“No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime,” Sessions said. “Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate as is sharing with our partners.”

A 2015 report by the Institute for Justice graded states’ forfeiture laws and highlighted the explosion of civil forfeitures after the 2008 financial crisis, when lean economic years further incentivized asset forfeiture among cash-strapped police departments.

And while there are rules as to what local agencies can spend their seized assets on, there are ways to get around them.

Both the DOJ and the US Department of the Treasury prohibit agencies to use seized money to pad officers’ salaries.

In January, the Associated Press revealed that the DOJ gave Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring suggestions about ways to work around the DOJ’s regulations regarding how seized money may be spent by law enforcement agencies. The Justice Department suggested that agencies could use the forfeited money to fund things like vehicle maintenance and other non-salary expenses, and then redirect the money that would have been spent on the routine expenses into salaries.

Last year, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill to rein in police officers’ ability to seize money and/or property without due process.

SB 443, introduced by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), blocks law enforcement agencies from bypassing California’s civil asset forfeiture laws. To take advantage of the controversial Equitable Sharing Program without a conviction, the seized cash must be over $40,000. Additionally, before the passage of SB 443, law enforcement could seize the cash with just a “clear and convincing standard” of evidence. SB 443 increased the burden of proof to “beyond a reasonable doubt.”


Photo: Department of Justice.

18 Comments

  • What principles will guide AG Sessions policy directive on increasing civil asset forfeitures?

    Will it be the laws and values enshrined in the U.S. Constitution?

    That particular piece of paper with some nice calligraphy and fancy name is not relevant to the new DOJ directive on asset forfeiture.

    “care and professionalism” are driving this policy directive.
    That is Sessions code for “Jim Crow”.

    This is the green light for police in the South and wherever who align KKK – it’s open hunting season, there are no restrictions and no limits.
    For local law enforcement who are not KKK – stay out of the way.

    If a black granny wins a jackpot at the casino, then let her collect it.
    When the casino bus gets 2 miles down the road, then stop that bus, pull that black granny off that bus and seize all that dope money.

    Do not make big dope seizures from blacks.

    Direct all that dope for sale into the black community.
    After its all sold, then take the money.

    If you seize white dope, keep a little for evidence.
    Send the rest for sale to the blacks, then take the money.

    If they black, take everything they got – because anything they have is from dope money.
    If they say it’s not, then take it and let them prove it.
    No receipt, no proof.

    Maybe they will tell you their grandpa bought the house 80 years ago and left it in his will.
    If they can’t show you escrow papers and bank records from when grandpa made the purchase, then you will execute a dope money asset seizure.

    If a black boy can’t show a receipt for the socks and shoes on his feet, then he can walk home barefoot.

    This is Sessions DOJ.
    He will not be finished until the blacks in Alabama are pleading to join the chain gang.
    Until they are down on their knees begging to lay down in the field house and pick cotton at the crack of dawn.

    • So very true. Those who deny the truth either doesn’t know it or chooses to ignore it.

      Pretty much Beauregard’s translation of saying “the south shall rise again”. That’s his first mistake unless he’s talking about Mexico.

  • Tokalas, I’m not going to defend asset seizures, I think property rights have been eroded far too much already. That being said, if your going to come up with crazy urban legend type stories (basically the second half of your comment) I think you need to cite some case,report or something that has been printed somewhere supporting your allegations. Cause you sound crazy as hell.

    • I did think of that, then dismissed it because it’s too crazy. Witch makes the troll AWESOME. You got me Tokalas, well played sir ,keep up the good work.

    • You guys will never make Detective, assuming that allisonbee tokalas is female.

      Anyone can be salty but it takes time and experience to be seasoned.
      Old proverb – Be slow to speak and quick to listen.

  • Industry secrets would have to be revealed to counter the article. That’s not going to happen. Anyone who has ever worked narcotics or has a strong idea of how asset forfeiture most often occurs without anyone ever being charged and or a suspect named, knows the AG is on the right track with this one. Although I still think the AG is an imbecile of the highest order, he somehow got this right.

    I also think ABT’s comment was tongue in cheek.

  • Now, Major Kong, you really did not think Allisonbee really meant that the cops would take the black kids’ socks and shoes, did you. I can understand how you will not defend this asset forfeiture policy, but I’m surprised you and the rest of your cohorts aren’t up in arms. Instead, because its a southern Keebler Elf with a strong, southern dislike for the coloreds, you stay mum. I would imagine that if it were Eric Holder giving this speech you would be up in arms about how the blacks are taking your rights and your property. Perhaps because you and yours get a cut, albeit to fight “crime,” and because the majority of the cash is coming from black and brown folks.

    Aristotle, do not be surprised that Maj. Kong may very well make or be a detective. Perhaps that is why they have yet to solve who shot the Notorious BIG, a 300 lbs black man shot surrounded by witnesses.

  • Cf you try but your attempts at trolling comes across like a douchebag junior college teachers aide in the race and gender studies dept. Now A Tokalas ,there’s some real talent.

  • I was very surprised to see how an article about Assist Seizure and the AG Jeff Sessions turned into a rant about black people. Who ever wrote should be embarrassed and is a racist of the chug heat order. It’s not just a rant but a racist, demeaning one in the vein Amos and Andy or Al Jolson. It keeps referring to black people and the KKK which presumes all criminal are black and all law enforcement are aligned with the KKK. I was surprised the writer referred to the black granny and didn’t use the term “mammy”.

    A fine example of opinion based, agenda spouting, biased filled, racist right wing blather.

  • Conspiracy , cf has been trolling commenters on race for months via this blog. (See his latest post above). Only one difference, tokalas is actually pretty funny.

  • The Oval Office is bring ran like “The Apprentice”. At least “Spicey” quit before he was fired. I’m gonna miss him on SNL.
    Mr. Stammering & Stuttering himself, AG Sessions in not too far behind.

  • Maj. Kong, thank you for the kind words. I am surprised you recognized the talent of Allsionbee. This from a man who asked for back-up to support the proposition that police are taking the socks and shoes from black kids. This from the man that said, “I did think of that, then dismissed it because it’s too crazy.” Don’t lie. The Grim Reaper has to let you know you’re being an idiot in requesting proof that cops are taking socks and shoes. And, I’ll take the junior college teacher’s aide comment as a compliment. Maybe once you finish your GED at Trump University, you’ll be in my junior college class. Now, go to work and harass some black kid and take his socks and shoes. Go Make America Great. Have a nice weekend.

  • Cf you’re going into that shrill nonsensical ramble again . At least we agree that Tokalas is pretty great .I’m sorry it upsets you but you’re just not very funny ,no reason to get hysterical about it.

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