U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions turns on the spigot for un­fair as­set for­fei­ture.

The Denver Post - - NEWS - Getty Images

With a prom­ise to use “care and pro­fes­sion­al­ism,” At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions has moved to ex­pand a scandal-plagued pro­gram of as­set for­fei­ture that al­lows law en­force­ment of­fi­cials to seize money and goods from in­di­vid­u­als sus­pected of crimes, in many cases with­out a crim­i­nal con­vic­tion or even a charge. While it is nice to pledge care and pro­fes­sion­al­ism, as­pects of this pro­gram have proved rife with abuse, and it must be re­formed.

The log­i­cal foun­da­tion of as­set for­fei­ture is re­cov­er­ing the pro­ceeds of crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity, such as drug deals. “No crim­i­nal should be al­lowed to keep the pro­ceeds of their crime,” Ses­sions de­clared in a speech Mon­day in Min­neapo­lis to the Na­tional District At­tor­neys As­so­ci­a­tion. Again, it is hard to ar­gue with the prin­ci­ple. But in re­al­ity, as a Post in­ves­ti­ga­tion showed in 2014, as­set for­fei­ture has turned out to be an op­por­tu­nity for po­lice to seize cash and valu­ables from driv­ers stopped for mi­nor in­frac­tions, and it of­ten can be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for the in­no­cent to re­cover their prop­erty. The bounty is of­ten parceled out to law en­force­ment agen­cies, cre­at­ing a per­verse profit mo­tive.

In 2015, the Jus­tice Depart­ment un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama an­nounced cur­tail­ment of a kind of for­fei­ture that al­lowed lo­cal po­lice to share part of their pro­ceeds with fed­eral au­thor­i­ties. This was known as “adop­tive” for­fei­ture, un­der which state and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties would get the seizure cases pro­cessed, or “adopted,” un­der more per­mis­sive fed­eral stat­ues, rather than stricter state laws. The 2015 order all but ended adop­tive for­fei­ture. Now, Mr. Ses­sions is turn­ing the spigot back on, as a Jus­tice Depart­ment pol­icy an­nounce­ment on Wed­nes­day made clear.

The Post re­port in 2014 re­vealed oner­ous seizures from the in­no­cent. In one case, a 40-year-old His­panic car­pen­ter from New Jer­sey was stopped on In­ter­state 95 in Vir­ginia for hav­ing tinted win­dows. Po­lice said he ap­peared ner­vous and con­sented to a search. They took $18,000 that he said was meant to buy a used car. He had to hire a lawyer to get his money back.

While as­set for­fei­ture is jus­ti­fied in huge drug busts, its abuse in high­way ar­rests and in grabbing small sums from peo­ple has gone too far. Ses­sions de­clared in his ad­dress to the Min­neapo­lis group: “Help­ing you do your jobs, help­ing the po­lice get bet­ter, and cel­e­brat­ing the no­ble, hon­or­able, es­sen­tial and chal­leng­ing work you do will al­ways be a top pri­or­ity of mine.” Wouldn’t it be in ser­vice of these goals to curb wrong­ful as­set for­fei­tures and put in place strong pro­tec­tions against fur­ther ex­ploita­tion by po­lice of in­no­cent Amer­i­cans?

The Jus­tice Depart­ment is promising to im­ple­ment such pro­tec­tions, and Ses­sions said he would in­struct depart­ment of­fi­cials to use an “abun­dance of cau­tion” for seizures in­volv­ing ve­hi­cles and res­i­dences, where many mis­takes have oc­curred. That’s not enough. Congress ought to con­sider leg­is­la­tion in­tro­duced by Rep. Dar­rell Issa, R-Calif., with bi­par­ti­san sup­port that would in­crease the gov­ern­ment’s bur­den of proof be­fore seiz­ing as­sets. The mem­bers of The Den­ver Post’s ed­i­to­rial board are William Dean Sin­gle­ton, chair­man; Mac Tully, CEO and pub­lisher; Chuck Plun­kett, editor of the ed­i­to­rial pages; Me­gan Schrader, ed­i­to­rial writer; and Co­hen Peart, opin­ion editor.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.