Attorney-General okays asset-seizure programs

The program has long been in place but has been in only limited use in recent years due to pressure from lawmakers and civil-rights groups that fear its misuse.
By Lucas Rowe | Jul 20, 2017
Attorney-General Jeff Sessions advised the Justice Department on Wednesday to re-establish a "criminal asset seizure program," by which law enforcement agencies seize assets or property that they can prove are ill-gotten gains of criminal activity. The program has long been in place but has been in only limited use in recent years due to pressure from lawmakers and civil-rights groups that fear its misuse.
Under Sessions' directive, the Justice Department will give law-enforcement agencies greater authority to seize property and assets if they have links to crime. Deborah Connor, the Justice Department's acting chief of the Criminal Division, circulated an agency-wide memo supporting the directive. Connor argued that the program starves organized-crime syndicates, drug traffickers, and gangs of resources and tools.
Law-enforcement agencies also have free rein to spend the seized money on themselves. The memo said that the proceeds from these assets can "infuse" law agencies with financial resources, equipment and training that they can use to better fight crime.
The Justice Department said that law-enforcement officers will go through extensive legal training on how to properly use the program. It also said that the burden of proof will still be on the government to prove that the seized goods have criminal connections.
But the program has critics on the right and the left. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) expressed concern that government agencies might take advantage of the law to seize property or assets from innocent people.
"This is a troubling decision for the due process protections afforded to us under the Fourth Amendment as well as the growing consensus we've seen nationwide on this issue," Issa said in a statement. "Ramping up adoptive forfeitures would circumvent much of the progress state legislatures have made to curb forfeiture abuse."

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