The Obama/Lynch Justice department has once again joined with state and local law enforcement to steal property from Americans. As law professor/blogger Glenn Reynolds puts it, “WHEN CITIZENS ARE SEEN AS PREY: Justice Department reinstates federal program that helps state cops act like robbers.” It seems that General Holder’s humanity and sympathy for those faced with such draconian action by the federal government is not shared by our new Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
In asset forfeiture, authorities actually proceed against physical property itself, not people. So the police can and do, for instance, seize cash from motorists who have broken no laws. The police say they think the money is tied to illegal activity and are therefore going to take it. Unlike criminal prosecutions where the accused has abundant rights and protections, these are generally civil procedures without the strong protections our system affords criminal defendants. This has led to all manner of abuses in a world where people have to hire expensive private attorneys to recover money the police decided to simply put in their own pockets.
If that does not turn innocent until proven guilty on its head, nothing does.
A number of state legislatures have tried to reign in their state and local police abuse of asset forfeiture proceedings by limiting the types of cases where police can seize assets, and what subsequently happens to them. But the federal government has been directly undermines such efforts by offering to step in and seize assets under federal law, and turning around and giving a huge chunk of the cash or property directly to the police agencies in a program called “Equitable Sharing”.
General Holder did the right thing and suspended this practice last year. As Mother Jones reported at the time in “Eric Holder Ends Horrible Civil Asset Forfeiture Program”:
All by itself this has been a scandal for a long time, but the federal program Holder eliminated has been the biggest scandal of all. It’s bad enough that civil asset forfeiture even exists as a legal doctrine, but it’s beyond comprehension that the feds would actively encourage abuse of forfeiture laws by creating a program that allows police departments to keep most of the money they seize. This is practically an invitation to steal money from innocent people.
Why Obama and Lynch have decided to restart this notorious program is anyone’s guess. It is now left to each state to ensure that its own sworn law enforcement officers are restricted from stealing from the citizenry to enrich themselves. Here’s hoping…