Asset Forfeiture

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has withdrawn President Barack Obama’s (D) blanket hold on asset seizure, but with safeguards.  I think those safeguards need improvement.

Stop sharing seized assets with local law enforcement.  Each State has its own laws regarding asset seizure by local law enforcement; these laws should be respected and not bypassed.


Sessions’ new guidelines say that state or local agencies seeking forfeiture under federal law must demonstrate probable cause within 15 days of the seizure. The sponsoring federal agency must notify the property’s owner within 45 days, so he can challenge it, including by going to court.

This is much too slow.  These agencies already have probable cause, or they couldn’t have conducted the raids and seizures in the first place.  Where a seizure is made pursuant to an unwarranted but otherwise legitimate stop or arrest, the seizure has its probable cause in the same process with which the police after the fact justify their stop/arrest.

The sponsoring agency knows at the moment of the seizure what it’s seized and what it intends to do with it; there’s no reason for a 45-day delay in notification other than to make the seizure as irrevocable as possible and, in the case of financial asset seizure, to make as great as possible the cost to the owner of his property’s recovery.

Finally, absent an actual conviction, there shouldn’t be any asset seizure outside the strictures of the already existing civil and criminal sections of the RICO statute.  That law provides sufficient grounds for seizure prior to conviction, when the seizure is made solely on the basis of an accusation.

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