The Scoop: Asset Forfeiture Reforms Move Forward
Recently, the Justice Department made what appeared to be a bold step forward in reforming the asset forfeiture program run out of the department. The department's actions came after I raised concerns about the federal government’s role in joining asset seizure cases initiated by state and local law enforcement and dividing up the proceeds among the various agencies.
The bipartisan, bicameral letter I spearheaded to Attorney General Eric Holder on January 9, 2015, recommended that the department consider discontinuing the program.
I appreciate that the department announced limitations to the program, because while asset forfeiture certainly can serve an important purpose in criminal investigations, the practice as it developed raised a number of concerns. In our letter, several leading members of Congress urged the Attorney General to implement additional procedural safeguards to make sure the property of innocent Americans was not being swept up in overzealous asset forfeiture.
It appears, though, that the devil is in the details of the department's new policy, and the details may include some major loopholes, like the exceptions for joint task forces and joint investigations, that could permit the abuses of “equitable sharing” to continue.
In the meantime, I'm working on bipartisan legislation that will protect innocent people from being caught up in the dragnet of asset forfeiture.
The rule of law ought to be about protecting innocent people. Too often we’ve seen just the opposite with civil asset forfeiture laws. The practice up to this point had perverse incentives and violated some state laws.