After catching some heat from both Democrats and Republicans over the revitalization of the civil asset forfeiture program, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has established an internal watchdog within the Justice Department. It’s designed to keep an eye on how law enforcement steals from those suspected of criminal activity.
Earlier this week, Sessions called on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint a Director of Asset Forfeiture Accountability. The mission of this newly created post is to ensure compliance in all matters related to “adoptive forfeiture.” This means investigating all complaints related to the conduct of the department’s use of the program. Including the actions of “judges, attorneys, defendants and other sources.”
In a memo to Rosenstein, Sessions wrote, “the American people and Congress must know this program is being administered professionally, lawfully, and in a manner consistent with sound public policy,” going to on to explain how the program is “a critical part of the essential and growing partnership between state, local, and federal law enforcement officers.”
The Civil Asset Forfeiture Program
But the only true fans of the civil asset forfeit program are the law enforcement agencies that reap the benefits.
During the Obama administration, the entire smarmy existence of the adoptive forfeitures came under scrutiny. Mostly because local and state police agencies were stealing valuable property from people that courts never charged with a crime. In most cases, anyway.
Sure, the government designed the program to combat large criminal organizations. But authorities mostly used it to steal cash, vehicles and other valuable items from people suspected of drug activity.
Even those folks caught in possession of small amounts of marijuana during routine traffic stops often had to give up possession of their vehicles. You know, because they used it to transport contraband.
Yet, in 2015, former Attorney General Eric Holder tossed a wrench into the whole shady system. Of course, this ticked off law enforcement. No longer could they run short con scams on the average citizen in an effort to stockpile their coffers.
Unfortunately, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the former senator who believes “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” does not subscribe to the same common sense philosophy.
In July, he reversed Holder’s directive, giving law enforcement the power, once again, to seize property from people suspected of drug activity—even if no one files charges.
“As our law enforcement partners will tell you and as President Trump knows well, asset forfeiture is a key tool that helps law enforcement defund organized crime, take back ill-gotten gains, and prevent new crimes from being committed, and it weakens the criminals and the cartels. Even more importantly, it helps return property to the victims of crime,” Sessions said in a recent statement.
Final Hit: Justice Department Creates Internal Watchdog for Civil Asset Forfeiture Program
The announcement of an internal watchdog might sound like Sessions has good intentions of running a tighter ship. But long-time critics of asset forfeiture program argue that Trump’s leading law enforcer has only “appointed a fox guarding the henhouse.”
“For years, DOJ bureaucrats have used civil forfeiture to take property from innocent Americans,” attorney Robert Everett Johnson of the Institute for Justice told CBS News. “Widespread and well-documented abuse has led to bipartisan calls for reform. And now the attorney general’s answer is to put more bureaucrats in the room. But no amount of government bureaucracy can substitute for basic respect for Americans’ constitutional rights. Congress needs to act, where DOJ will not.”