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U.S. House Votes to Restrict Civil Asset Forfeiture

Two amendments could prevent Attorney Sessions from spending federal funds to ramp up the civil asset forfeiture program.

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Congress has taken steps to ensure that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions does not hold the power to ramp up the civil asset forfeiture program.

Earlier this week, the Republican-dominated House of Representatives put its seal of approval on a handful of temporary amendments that could prevent Sessions from breathing new life into a policy that has allowed the federal government to sink its teeth into valuable property seized from drug-related crime suspects.

Over the summer, Sessions said he was replacing a policy set into motion under Obama’s Justice Department to give the Department of Justice more authority when taking possession of property owned by drug offenders. The goal of this new directive was designed give state and local police forces the ability to lean on federal law when attempting to take ownership of personal property – in many cases without ever charging a person with a crime.

According to a report from Reason, the two amendments, which were approved on Tuesday in a voice vote, would prevent the Justice Department from spending federal tax dollars to pay for actions prohibited under the Obama administration.

"Under current civil forfeiture law, the system is ripe for abuse and has undermined the constitutional rights of far too many Americans," Representative Tim Walberg, one of the primary sponsors, said in a statement. "We should not accept a system where the government can seize innocent people's property without charging them with a crime."

Criminal justice reform advocates applauded the House for taking a stand against the Justice Department.

“In a rebuke to the Justice Department, the House voted today to stand for civil liberties, and curb the federal government’s ability to take a person’s property without due process of law,” said Holly Harris, Executive Director at the Justice Action Network.

“It’s astonishing that, here in America, someone’s property can be forfeited even when that person has never been charged with a crime,” she continued. “Today’s action is a strong statement of support from Republicans and Democrats, proving that these reforms know no political boundaries.”

If these riders are included in the Fiscal Year 2018 federal budget, Sessions’ hands would be tied on the civil asset forfeiture issue in a manner similar to how they currently are with respect to medical marijuana. 

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