The Department of Justice said Monday that it is restarting a program allowing local police to seize assets under federal law and pocket the proceeds.
Budget cuts last year forced the DOJ to halt the program, but now with new funds in hand, police can again rely on federal law — instead of just state law — to auction seized assets, which is significant because federal law is far more expansive and allows police to keep up to 80 percent of assets.
Asset forfeiture works by permitting police to seize assets associated with suspected crime, even if the person who owned the assets never ends up charged with any crime, The Washington Post reports.
Detractors of the practice cheered when the program was originally cut, thinking that it might be an end, or at least a minimization of federal asset forfeiture, but it appears those hopes were short-lived. Supporters from the law enforcement community were immediately outraged and started applying pressure, which prompted legislators like GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte to push the DOJ to keep the program active.
“This really was about funding, not a genuine concern about the abuses rampant in the equitable sharing system,” Scott Bullock, president of the Institute for Justice, told The Washington Post. “Equitable sharing” is another name for asset forfeiture.
The Institute of Justice has conducted a significant amount of research on asset forfeiture, producing a report blasting forfeiture laws, which entail that “the government can seize this property on the mere suspicion that it is connected to criminal activity. No charges or convictions are required. And once property is seized, owners must navigate a confusing, complex and often expensive legal process to try to win it back.”
Opponents of asset forfeiture have noted that police have a major incentive to abuse it as much as possible because they use the proceeds to fund police programs.
Asset forfeiture is on the rise, and in 2014, the feds brought in a total of $5 billion, up from approximately 3.5 billion in 2013.
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