This is a horrible expansion of an unconstitutional and abusive practice.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions signed an order on Wednesday reversing the Obama administration’s limits on civil asset forfeiture, a widely criticized practice in which law enforcement officers seize cash and property from citizens who have not been charged with crimes.
The policy change comes as a number of states — both red and blue — have clamped down on civil forfeiture abuses, and it will allow local police departments to circumvent state laws that restrict the practice.
In the last three years, 24 states have comprehensively reformed their forfeiture laws, according to Sheth. As of July 10, when Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed H.B. 8146, 14 states require a criminal conviction before seized assets can be legally forfeited to authorities (if no conviction results, the assets must be returned to their owner).
Several states have other types of restrictions — some ban the use of forfeited assets for law enforcement services and reroute the money to other public services, thereby eliminating the profit motive some say leads to abuse of the practice. (For a specific list of individual state policies, visit the Institute of Justice’s interactive map.)
But Sessions’ order gives officers a way to bypass state restrictions.
It revives a program called Equitable Sharing or “adoptive forfeiture,” which allows local law enforcement to process forfeiture cases under federal statute and “share” the assets with federal authorities. In practice, the federal government sends up to 80 percent of the assets right back to local departments, effectively allowing them to get around stricter state laws, says Rulli. Eric Holder, Obama’s attorney general, eliminated adoptive forfeiture except in rare cases.