News and Commentary

AWFUL TRUMP: DOJ To Use Asset Forfeiture Even In States That Banned It

The Department of Justice announced on Wednesday its official stance on civil asset forfeiture, which includes expanding the policy into states that have banned the practice.

A directive from the DOJ explains that the department will use the policy toward any property confiscated by state and local law enforcement if it feels that it relates to a federal crime. It then lists various “safeguards” for the practice as well as how people can try to regain their property. Eventually, the directive reaches a chilling note: the DOJ’s policy “supersedes” states that have prohibited the use of asset forfeiture.

The full directive can be read below:

Civil asset forfeiture, as Reid’s tweet explains, allows law enforcement to confiscate private property from American citizens under the rubric of the property being supposedly connected to a crime, even if that citizen has not been charged with a crime. Once that property has been seized, it is incredibly difficult for the owner to regain his or her property because they don’t have a right to legal counsel in this circumstance; it’s on them to prove that the property was not connected to a crime.

Naturally, the practice has resulted in numerous cases of innocent Americans losing their property to the government, and then facing financial hardship in their efforts to get it back.

Not only is the DOJ’s expansion of asset forfeiture a serious violation of private property rights, it also encroaches upon federalism by stating that the practice will even be used in states that have banned it. In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions paid lip service to federalism: (emphasis bolded)

Last week Sessions ordered his deputies to undertake a comprehensive review of all police reform activities, including any existing or contemplated consent decrees, which were binding agreements used in prior administrations to outline and enforce reform measures.

“These are, first and foremost, tasks for state, local and tribal law enforcement. … It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies,” Sessions wrote in a memo — a federalism-tinged tone that some forecast as the beginning of the end of the department’s use of consent decrees.

Even though he was talking about police reform, it’s hard to reconcile the above-bolded statement with the DOJ’s policy of using asset forfeiture in states that have prohibited the practice. Those who truly believe in the principles of limited government, private property rights and federalism should be alarmed by this policy.

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