Eric Holder Announces Limits on Civil Asset Forfeiture Program

EspañolOn Friday, January 16, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced policy changes that will prevent local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars, or other assets without a court order.

Since 2008, thousands of state and local law enforcement agencies have made over 55,000 seizures of cash and goods worth US$3 billion under the Department of Justice (DOJ) civil asset forfeiture program Equitable Sharing.

While warrantless seizures have become a common practice since the beginning of the war on drugs decades ago, the federal program made it easier for local and state police to make seizures and then have the federal government “adopt” them. It allowed police departments and anti-drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of adopted seizures.

“With this new policy, effective immediately, the Justice Department is taking an important step to prohibit federal agency adoptions of state and local seizures, except for public safety reasons,” Holder, who has already announced his imminent departure from department, said in a statement.

Holder’s decision allows for exceptions, including the confiscation of illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives, and property related to child pornography.

The overturn follows an investigation by the Washington Post published in September 2014, which found that since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, police have made arbitrary cash seizures worth nearly $2.5 billion from drivers and other individuals without presenting search warrants or formal charges.

The Washington Post revealed that local and state police took advantage of traffic violations committed by drivers, minors, and immigrants, who would agree to the warrantless seizure when pressed by officers.

The policy change comes as both parties in the US Congress are drafting a bill to greatly reform civil forfeiture laws, and has surprised activists who have long denounced the practice as a violation of the nation’s fundamental values of property rights and due process.

“It’s high time we put an end to this damaging practice,” said David Harris, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Pittsburgh. “It has been a civil-liberties debacle and a stain on American criminal justice.”

Source: Washington Post.

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