On Wednesday, the Justice Department gave state and local law enforcement the power to bypass potentially restrictive state laws and invoke federal law to seize the personal property of people suspected, but not charged, of crimes.
Proponents of this practice, called civil asset forfeiture, say it’s about confiscating profits or tools of illicit activity, often “dirty money.” If citizens can prove that it’s legally obtained, their assets will be returned. Otherwise, they can be used by law enforcement for equipment or training.
But opponents say the practice is rife for abuse by the police and that innocent people will lose their right to due process.
The D.O.J. did add certain protections, such as making authorities give their reasoning to explain the probable cause for taking assets and requiring federal prosecutors to approve select seizures, such as cash that amounts to less than $10,000.
Last year, California clamped down on civil forfeiture, but this new DOJ policy would allow law enforcement to circumvent the state’s restrictions.
Will this policy aid law enforcement? Or will it open the doors to civil rights abuses?
Jerretta Sandoz, vice president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League
Theshia Naidoo, legal director of criminal justice at the Drug Policy Alliance; the organization co-sponsored a 2016 bill which requires conviction in most cases before permanent loss of property; the bill passed and was put into effect in January 2017