Outrage over Federal Plans to Increase Asset Forfeiture

Asset forfeiture is one of the most controversial aspects of the criminal justice system. It allows property to be seized before a defendant is convicted or even charged in some cases.

After a retreat from use of the practice in recent years, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has promised the Department of Justice will seek to increase the use of asset forfeiture by state and local police forces.

Asset forfeiture means police can seize cash and property. Critics of the system claim it represents policing for profit and some state legislatures have sought to rein it in.

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However, in remarks to the National District Attorneys Association meeting, Sessions said he wants to use asset forfeiture more.

In his prepared remarks he promised a new directive on asset forfeiture. He singled out drug traffickers.

He said the federal government plans to develop policies to increase forfeitures, stating no criminal should be allowed to “keep the proceeds of their crime.”

Some of the shortcomings of these proposals were highlighted in Salon magazine.

The article pointed out it’s not just criminals who become victims of asset forfeiture.

The terms of federal laws and many U.S. states allow the seizure of property or cash without the authorities convicting or even charging anyone with a crime.

This procedure is known as civil asset forfeiture. Large amounts of money are collected by police forces which often use the procedure to fill their coffers.

The Washington Post reports the federal government is taking more money from citizens than burglars.

The Justice Department’s Inspector General has found that since 2007, the DEA seized more than $3 billion in cases in which owners were never even charged with crimes.

Despite the efforts to widen asset forfeiture at a federal level, a bill recently passed in Illinois aimed to restrict it.

This June the Illinois legislature passed a bill that tightened the state's civil asset forfeiture laws and shifted the burden of proof onto the government to show why it should be permitted to keep the seized property.

The vote followed an investigative report from Reason earlier this year showing lower-income neighborhoods of Chicago were hit hardest by asset forfeiture by law enforcement.

If you have been arrested for a crime and subjected to asset forfeiture you should contact an experienced Illinois criminal defense lawyer at (312) 229-0008.