U.S. Department Of Justice Tells State, Local Cops To Keep Hands Off Asset Seizures Under Federal Forfeiture Laws Unless Accompanied By Warrants Or Criminal Charges; Loopholes Remain As Use Of Police Power To Pull Off Unwarranted Property Ripoffs Still Possible If Feds Participate In Joint Seizures; State Law Seizures Also OK
- Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without warrants or criminal charges.
Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.
Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing.
The program has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them “adopted” by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds. It allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.
“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 said in a statement.
Holder’s decision allows limited exceptions, including illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography, a small fraction of the total.(1) This would eliminate virtually all cash and vehicle seizures made by local and state police from the program.
While police can continue to make seizures under their own state laws, Equitable Sharing was easy to use and required most of the proceeds from the seizures to go to local and state police agencies. Some states have higher standards of proof for forfeitures and some require seized proceeds to go into the general fund.
For U.S. Department of Justice press release, see Attorney General Prohibits Federal Agency Adoptions of Assets Seized by State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies Except Where Needed to Protect Public Safety:
- The new policy applies only to adoptions, not to seizures resulting from joint operations involving both federal and state authorities, or to seizures pursuant to warrants issued by federal courts. The policy does not limit the ability of state and local agencies to pursue the forfeiture of assets pursuant to their respective state laws.
(1) See Hit & Run Blog: The Fine Print in Holder's New Forfeiture Policy Leaves Room for Continued Abuses (An exception for joint task forces allows evasion of state property protections).