The Trump administration is planning to ramp up the largely criticized civil asset forfeiture program.
On Monday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice was on the verge of launching a new policy within the next week that would give the federal government more freedom to seize the personal property of drug offenders.
“We hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture—especially for drug traffickers,” Sessions told those in attendance of the National District Attorneys Association conference in Minneapolis. “With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures. No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime. Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate, as is sharing with our partners.”
The updated position represents yet another reversal of an Obama-era policy pertaining to drugs. The current stance, which was put into place by former Attorney General Eric Holder, was designed to make it more difficult for asset forfeitures to take place without charging an offender for a crime.
Although the basic concept of the program is to strip valuable property from illegal drug dealers, the policy has been linked to countless seizures of cash, cars, houses and other property as a result of simple possession.
The policy has also given law enforcement agencies extra incentive to conduct searches for illegal contraband. The proceeds that stem from property seizures help to fund everything from military grade weapons to Robocop style vehicle, and other unnecessary equipment.
As Reason’s C.J. Ciaramella points out in his analysis of the situation, “the Justice Department plays a huge role in asset forfeiture through its Equitable Sharing Program,” which “distributes hundreds of millions of dollars a year to police departments around the country.”
Sessions believes that “95 percent” of the forfeitures are made against people who have “done nothing in their lives but sell dope,” but, in many cases, the policy has done more harm to innocent Americans than it ever has to those involved with the illegal drug trade.
A report from the Institute for Justice shows the Justice Department has raked in almost $22 billion in asset forfeiture money since the 9/11 tragedy. The majority of these seizures (almost 90 percent) were obtained without ever charging a suspect for a crime.
“Sessions' upcoming directive to increase asset forfeiture comes as little surprise,” Ciaramella wrote. “Sessions, a former prosecutor and U.S. senator, has been a stalwart defender of asset forfeiture throughout his career. He has already dismantled Obama-era directives on drug sentencing guidelines and ordered a review of all of the existing consent agreements between the Justice Department and police departments that were found to be violating residents' constitutional rights.”
It is distinctly possible that Sessions plans to utilize his new asset forfeiture policy to rake in billions of dollars once he decides to reverse another Obama-era memo that allows statewide marijuana legalization. Because the cannabis plant remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government, any operation that engages in the cultivation, transport or sale of the herb is susceptible to the loss of cash and property if and/or when a federal crackdown takes place.