Newspapers Agree: Budget Constraints Are Not the Solution to Ending Forfeiture Abuse

Newspapers across the country are calling for more permanent reforms following the Department of Justice’s announcement last week that it is suspending its asset forfeiture equitable sharing program for the foreseeable future. In a letter to local, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies, the DOJ cited budget constraints as the reason for halting the program.

A Wall Street Journal editorial urged Congress to ensure the program is never reinstated. The newspaper argued that “[t]his isn’t about seizing ill-gotten gains. The disturbing trend among law enforcers has been to seize assets from people who have never been found guilty.”

The Denver Post said in an editorial, “The standard under our Constitution should be much, much higher,”. A Washington Examiner editorial stated that “[a]lthough the Justice Department’s letter makes clear that this suspension is only temporary, Congress and the various state legislatures can and should act in the new year to limit the program on a more permanent basis.”

The second edition of Policing for Profit, which the Institute for Justice released in November 2015, documented the overwhelming size and scope of equitable sharing, in addition to the perverse profit incentive presented by civil forfeiture and equitable sharing. Equitable sharing allows locally seized property to be forfeited federally. Participating in the DOJ’s program meant local law enforcement agencies could receive up to 80 percent of forfeiture revenues.

In the same letter, the DOJ said that it “remains committed to the Program” and would seek to revive it. For its part, IJ will remain vigilant until civil forfeiture is abolished.

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