Trump's Pick For Attorney General A Big Fan Of Civil Asset Forfeiture

from the status-quo-maintenance dept

Efforts to rein in civil forfeiture have been moving forward around the country. Several states have passed laws that remove some of the perverse incentives that have allowed law enforcement agencies to seize cash, cars, homes, and whatever else might be laying around without criminal convictions. Very few efforts have gone as far as to make convictions a requirement in every case, but most have at least closed the federal loophole that allowed agencies to bypass more restrictive state laws to take control of citizens’ assets.

The federal government’s use of asset forfeiture still remains untouched. The equitable sharing program that helped local law enforcement agencies skirt state regulations closed briefly due to budget cutbacks, but was revived once the tax dollars started flowing again.

While some legislators have mounted efforts to scale back federal civil asset forfeiture, nothing has made its way to the president’s desk. There’s a new president on the way and his choice for attorney general isn’t going to help those efforts along. Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions is a longtime fan of asset forfeiture and still believes — despite years of evidence to the contrary — that it’s an effective Drug War weapon, rather than law enforcement agencies going shopping for things they want.

At a 2015 Senate Judiciary Hearing, Sessions had this to say about federal adoption of local forfeitures, as well as forfeiture in general.

[Sessions] said he doesn’t “think it’s wrong to—for federal government to adopt state cases” and added that “taking and seizing and forfeiting, through a government judicial process, illegal gains from criminal enterprises is not wrong.”

Mr. Sessions said he was “very unhappy” with criticism of a program that mostly took money from people who have “done nothing in their lives but sell dope.”

It’s difficult to square Sessions’ “done nothing but sell dope” view on forfeiture with the more common reality: assets seized from people who’ve “done nothing in their lives” but never “sell dope.”

For Christos and Markela Sourovelis, for whom the worst thing was losing their home, “Room 101” was Courtroom 478 in City Hall. This “courtroom’s” name is Orwellian: There was neither judge nor jury in it. There the city government enriched itself — more than $64 million in a recent 11-year span — by disregarding due process requirements in order to seize and sell the property of people who have not been accused, never mind convicted, of a crime.

The Sourovelises’ son, who lived at home, was arrested for selling a small amount of drugs away from home. Soon there was a knock on their door by police who said, “We’re here to take your house” and “You’re going to be living on the street” and “We do this every day.” The Sourovelises’ doors were locked with screws, and their utilities were cut off. They had paid off the mortgage on their $350,000 home, making it a tempting target for policing for profit.

Sessions doesn’t care for this program being criticized, despite no law enforcement agency being able to offer up evidence backing his claim that “95%” of forfeitures are linked to drug dealing. Why? Because these agencies don’t have that proof. They’re not required to. Civil asset forfeiture circumvents the adversarial part of the judicial process almost entirely.

The few cases we do hear about are those that involve amounts worth fighting for. The process is expensive, labyrinthine, and stacked against the former owners of the seized assets. All most agencies have to do is make a few hunch-backed assertions about drug dealers and their tendency to use cash for transactions and their ability to purchase assets with obtained cash. Because convictions aren’t an integral part of the process, no investigations are started and no efforts made to ensure the seized assets are the direct result of criminal activity.

Sessions as attorney general won’t be able to do much about state laws that prevent law enforcement from partnering with the federal government to route around local statutes, but he will be able to stand in the way of reform efforts targeting federal civil asset forfeiture. As long as he’s in charge, agencies under his control will continue to abuse an inherently-abusable process to separate people like the Sourovelis family from their property.

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Comments on “Trump's Pick For Attorney General A Big Fan Of Civil Asset Forfeiture”

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34 Comments
ECA (profile) says:

Re: Congress could stop him...but won't

Reading some of the events of these Cases…
Cases NEVER taken into court..
People have money and goods taken from them, and it takes YEARS to get some of it back,

Anyone want to Run this past a politician? Raid his home over a warrant, and Take EVERYTHING…then have them TRY to go thru the courts, WITH NO FAVORITISM..

That One Guy (profile) says:

Soon there was a knock on their door by police who said, “We’re here to take your house” and “You’re going to be living on the street” and “We do this every day.” The Sourovelises’ doors were locked with screws, and their utilities were cut off. They had paid off the mortgage on their $350,000 home, making it a tempting target for policing for profit.

When your actions can be compared to the mob and you come out looking significantly worse, it’s probably a good sign that you’re not the good guys anymore.

The mob would threaten a business owner for ‘protection’, sure, but it serves nothing to go around torching buildings or kicking people out on the streets just for laughs, because it’s not profitable and a smart criminal knows that when you back someone into a corner such that they feel they have nothing to lose they’re willing to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t even consider.

At this point I’m pretty sure I’d prefer the actual mob running ‘law enforcement’, for their honesty if nothing else, and because they are less greedy than the cops currently in place.

Daydream says:

Re: Re:

If you had the actual mob running ‘law enforcement’, wouldn’t they be receiving tax money from the government to fund their operations?

And if you threw in that they could run-out-of-town any independent crooks while running a professional drug syndicate for themselves…and run public relations to get more support when they lobby Congress for more funding…

I must be missing something, tell me why this isn’t a good idea?

JEDIDIAH says:

Re: Blatant double standards

There are any number of fascist trends over the past 15 years that could have been curtailed but either party but weren’t. Both sides are equally guilty of tolerating, increasing, and profiting from this kind of crap. Either side will happily subvert the system if “their guy” is doing it and “their agenda” is being advanced.

Neither party has stood up to this stuff or declared that they want to roll it back.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Don’t forget those that wish to impose their morality on the rest of us, the other tendencies of a nanny state, AG’s who act like gods, the Government screaming terrorist so much that they are the terrorists, police acting with impunity, the assumption that George Orwell wrote instruction manuals, Governments adherence to the highest payers get to dictate laws, other takings such as public domain, prohibited behavior exercised by government officials with ‘qualified immunity’ where the only qualification is that they are government officials, etc..

Anonymous Coward says:

“The equitable sharing program that helped local law enforcement agencies skirt state regulations closed briefly due to budget cutbacks, but was revived once the tax dollars started flowing again.”

What a complete and utter pant load. Eric Holder put the kibosh on the program the instant Loretta Lynch was up for attorney general so it would not be a matter during her consideration (because she was and is a “big fan” of it as well and had used it to rob multiple individuals of their cash). Then once she was in place the kibosh was rescinded. Just more manipulative bullshit from the group of people that made “democrat” synonymous with “turd in a suit”.

Anonymous Coward says:

hasn’t anyone realised yet that Trumps main aim is to do whatever he can to help the rich, the famous and the already powerful, while at the same time, doing whatever he can to remove as many protections the people have at present and screwing them over while doing it? he’s not interested in us, the people, never has been and never will be! yet so many have been sucked in by his bolshy attitude and constant lies, that they voted to have him as President and able to do whatever the hell he wants! you can bet your ass, it wont be anything that helps the people!

bacchys (profile) says:

Sessions will be able to do a lot to circumvent state efforts to reform asset forfeiture. The Fed’s “adopting” rules- which enable them to “adopt” forfeitures even though no Federal law was broken and in which no Federal agents did anything during the investigation, enable state and local law enforcement agencies to evade state efforts to reform forfeitures. When a state limits the funds an agency can get from a forfeiture, they get a Federal agency to sign off on an “adoption” and collect 80% of the proceeds under the Federal rules.

Chuck says:

What the heck did you expect?

This is Donald Trump we’re talking about. What did you expect?

This is the guy who chose the head of Exxon to run the Department of Energy.

This is the guy who chose a man with a current, pending lawsuit against the EPA and who doesn’t believe the EPA should exist…to run the EPA.

This is the guy who wants to cut over a TRILLION dollars in income from the federal budget every year for the next 10 years…and still thinks he can somehow afford to build a wall. Or a fence. Or a fence-wall hybrid. Next week he’ll probably want to just dig a moat instead.

Or, worse yet, thinks a foreign nation, who will see a negative economic impact from said wall or fence or moat, is going to pay for it. Who in their right mind pays to build something that they know, in advance, will actually COST them money over time???

So a KKK sympathizer who thinks civil asset forfeiture is a good idea and encryption should be a crime? That guy for attorney general? Yanno, the guy who is supposed to enforce civil rights laws and such? In Trumpland, that makes PERFECT sense!

This is just par for the Trump course. Nothing to see here. Move along.

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