Civil asset forfeiture is theft, Mr. Sessions
We had a bit of a glitch today with WordPress. Dale finally figured it out but that’s why there’s been no access. Thanks, Dale.
Anyway, on with the show.
For the most part, I think Jeff Sessions is a good pick for Attorney General. The part that isn’t “good” is his obsession with drugs and along with that, seeing asset forfeiture as a viable and necessary tool in the fight against drugs. Civil asset forfeiture is theft, pure and simple, because it requires no charges be brought and, to get your assets back, you’re required to take your case to civil court.
Assets are often seized—and never returned—without any judicial process or court supervision. Unlike criminal forfeiture, civil forfeiture doesn’t require a criminal conviction or even charges. According to the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, which tracks forfeitures, 13% of all forfeitures done by the Justice Department between 1997 and 2013 were in criminal cases while 87% were civil forfeitures. And 88% of those forfeitures were done by an administrative agency, not a court.
Recently a number of states have passed laws banning the practice and rightfully so. Sessions, on the other hand, isn’t one of those that thinks that is a good idea.
Civil-rights activists have campaigned for years to end forfeiture abuses. But in a 2015 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Sessions defended the practice. He said he doesn’t “think it’s wrong to—for federal government to adopt state cases” and added that “taking and seizing and forfeiting, through a government judicial process, illegal gains from criminal enterprises is not wrong.”
Mr. Sessions said he was “very unhappy” with criticism of a program that mostly took money from people who have “done nothing in their lives but sell dope.” But his focus on the utility of criminal forfeitures overlooks the serious need for reform to end due-process abuse in civil forfeitures.
Make no mistake – there is a huge difference between criminal and civil forfeitures. I understand that. And it is one Mr. Sessions needs to make in his confirmation hearings. Criminal forfeiture requires much more than does civil asset forfeiture in terms of legal requirements. It actually requires proof of lawbreaking and due process. Civil asset forfeiture has no place in our culture or country, especially if we’re a nation of laws. Any procedure that simply takes your assets without cause or due process is just flat wrong. Incentivizing it is even worse.
The lack of procedural protection coupled with financial incentives has turned policing for profit into a slush fund for governments hungry for cash, and the payouts too often come at the expense of civil liberties. We’d like to hear what Mr. Sessions thinks of the practice today.
Yes we would like to hear what Mr. Sessions thinks of the practice today. Clearly. Completely. And without equivocation.