J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · July 17, 2017

Today, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Justice Department “plan[s] to develop policies to increase forfeitures.” Sessions also declared that “adoptive forfeitures are appropriate as is sharing with our partners,” which suggests plans to undo a widely praised ban on “adoptive” seizures, implemented by then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in January 2015.

Following the Attorney General’s remarks, Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Darpana Sheth released this statement:

“Today’s announcement is a disheartening setback in the fight to protect Americans’ private property rights. Ordinary Americans see that civil forfeiture is unconstitutional, and 24 states have taken steps to roll back civil forfeiture laws. The Attorney General’s plan to increase forfeitures is jarringly out of step with those positive developments.

Both the Republican and Democratic Party platforms slammed the use of civil forfeiture and called for reform. A recent poll found that 84 percent of Americans opposed the practice.

And due  to the ability of police and prosecutors to keep forfeiture proceeds, forfeiture has practically become an industry, incentivizing law enforcement to pursue forfeiture rather than crime. A 2015 report by the Institute for Justice, Policing for Profit, found that over $21.9 billion had been deposited into the Justice Department’s Assets Forfeiture Fund from 2001 to 2014. And 87 percent of DOJ’s forfeitures were civil, not criminal, meaning owners could forfeit their property even if they were not convicted.

Reversing the ban on adoptive seizures would revive one of the most notorious forms of forfeiture abuse. So-called “adoptive” seizures allow state and local law enforcement to circumvent state-law limitations on civil forfeiture by seizing property and then transferring it to federal prosecutors for forfeiture under federal law. Bringing back adoptive seizures would create a road map to circumvent state-level forfeiture reforms.

The Attorney General’s plans give a new urgency for state legislators to follow the lead of Arizona, Colorado and several other states that have passed measures to stop state and local law enforcement from using federal law to circumvent state-law protections for property owners. And they also show why it is vitally important for Congress to follow the lead of the states and enact federal forfeiture reform.”

According to a blockbuster Inspector General report released in March of this year, from 2007 to 2014, the ATF, DEA and the FBI adopted around 32,000 seizures worth a collective $880 million. Holder’s order reduced “the annual number of DEA cash seizures by over half and the annual value of DEA cash seizures by more than a third.”