United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice are set to launch new efforts to increase the federal government’s use of civil asset forfeiture. In response, the Institute for Justice (IJ), an Atlas Network partner, formed a coalition to send a letter to Committee on the Judiciary Chairmen Goodlatte and Grassley urging “swift action to reform this broken system.”
In the letter, IJ argues that “Americans from across the nation agree that our civil forfeiture system undermines property rights and is fundamentally unjust.” The letter goes on to denounce the practice as a whole — citing the hypocrisy of calling these forfeitures “safeguards” to property owners when in reality they are just empty promises to “be more careful.” The coalition also brings attention to the criticisms the Justice Department has overlooked in their announcement, including a statement by the Inspector General, explaining the Department could not “effectively assesses whether asset forfeiture is being appropriately used.”
Civil asset forfeiture currently has restrictions that were put in place to decrease their use, since the practice is controversial and often viewed as policy for profit and an ignorance of due process. With his comments, Sessions wants to loosen the restrictions placed on the “adoptions” of seizures which would allow law enforcement to seize property and transfer it to federal prosecutors in order to circumvent limitations on seizures that 20 states have already passed. Darapana Sheth, an attorney for IJ, called this proposal “a disheartening setback” in an interview with Reason.
This is not the first time IJ has worked against civil asset forfeiture in its fight against unjust government action. Recently, IJ released a report on new crackdowns in Connecticut, which now allows the government to keep property without charging anyone with a crime. Lee McGrath, the Senior Legislative Counsel at IJ, says, “Civil forfeiture is one of the most serious assaults on Americans’ private property rights.”
Civil asset forfeiture is defined as a “legal process in which law enforcement officers take assets from persons suspected of involvement with a crime or illegal activity without necessarily charging the owners with wrongdoing.”