Wednesday, the Justice Department announced that it would allow state and local police to seize cash and property from those suspected of crimes, even if they haven't been criminally charged.
“The goal here is to empower our police and prosecutors with this important tool that can be used to combat crime, particularly drug abuse,” Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein said, according to the Washington Post. “This is going to enable us to work with local police and our prosecutors to make sure that when assets are lawfully seized that they’re not returned to criminals when there’s a valid basis for them to be forfeited.”
Under the Obama administration, police agencies used the Justice Department civil asset forfeiture program to conduct 55,000 seizures of cash and property. This gave them $3 billion worth of assets to share with the feds. In 2015, Attorney General Eric Holder put a stop to that, saying officers can't seize cash and property without criminal charges or warrants. Here's more from WaPo:
A Washington Post investigation in 2014 found that state and local police had seized almost $2.5 billion from motorists and others without search warrants or indictments since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The Post series revealed that police routinely stopped drivers for minor traffic infractions, pressed them to agree to searches without warrants and seized large amounts of cash when there was no evidence of wrongdoing.
Police then spent the proceeds from the seizure with little oversight, according to the Post investigation. In some cases, the police bought luxury cars, high-powered weapons and armored cars.
However, Attorney General Jeff Sessions's new policy will allow federal “adoption” of assets, with added safeguards "to ensure that police have sufficient evidence of criminal activity when property is seized." One of those safeguards is that the government must notify property owners of their rights within 45 days, instead of the 90 day timeframe currently on the books. Officers will also receive more training.
Watch Sessions explain more about civil asset forfeiture below:
Image Credit: By Gzzz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons