Trump administration wants to rollback controversial civil forfeiture limits

The Trump administration wants to increase the use of seizure of criminal assets, but Noah Pransky says the practice has been abused.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said this week that the new administration plans on increasing the use of civil asset forfeiture, a controversial technique that allows police to seize cars, cash, and other property from individuals, even if they weren't charged with a crime.

10Investigates was one of many news outlets to expose civil forfeiture abuses in recent years, and in 2015, the Obama administration drew praise from many Democrats and Republicans after it tightened some of the federal rules on seizures, aiming to limit abuses.

In the last decade alone, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports seizing more than $3 billion from individuals who were not charged with crimes.

But Sessions said by increasing the amount of property seized, the government could better-target drug traffickers.

That drew sharp criticisms from the Institute for Justice Director, whose senior attorney, Darpana Sheth, said in a statement, "Civil forfeiture is inherently abusive. No one should lose his or her property without being first convicted of a crime, let alone charged with one. The only safeguard to protect Americans from civil forfeiture is to eliminate its use altogether. The Department of Justice’s supposed safeguards amount to little more than window dressing of an otherwise outrageous abuse of power.

"We have consistently warned that the modest reforms put in place in 2015 could be rolled back with the stroke of a pen—and that is precisely what Attorney General Sessions has done today. The DOJ’s directive, announced to a room full of law enforcement officials who stand to reap the profits of this new policy, shows the fundamental absurdity of a system of justice which prioritizes funding law enforcement over protecting constitutional rights or fighting crime."

Following 10Investigates' civil forfeiture stories in 2015, Florida joined 23 other states in passing recent reforms on the issue.  Florida law now requires a conviction for law enforcement agencies to permanently keep your property, but loosening the federal restrictions could open a new window for Florida law enforcement agencies to seize assets under federal law.

Find 10Investigates' Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Send your story tips confidentially to npransky@wtsp.com.

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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