Both Democratic and Republican parties were dissatisfied with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions renewal of the civil asset forfeiture program. The program increases the federal government’s power to seize money and property from Americans without even generating criminal charges. Sessions, to appease both parties, has now established an internal watchdog for the Justice Department to investigate how law enforcement seizes property from suspects of criminal activity.
Sessions relied on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to choose a Director of Asset Forfeiture Accountability. The position was created to guarantee the compliance in all affairs related to “adoptive forfeiture.” This will include the investigation of complaints related to the conduct of the DOJ’s utilization of the program.
Sessions wrote in a letter to Rosenstein, “the American people and Congress must know this program is being administered professionally, lawfully, and in a manner consistent with sound public policy,” adding that the program is “a critical part of the essential and growing partnership between state, local, and federal law enforcement officers.”
The entire program was under investigation during the Obama administration. The only actual supporters of the civil asset forfeit program are the law enforcement agencies. It was found that, in most cases, local and state police agencies were taking valuable property away from people that courts never charged with a crime. The government originally designed the program to fight the large criminal organizations. Unfortunately, authorities abused their power taking money, vehicles, as well as items from those suspected of drug activity. This caused the former Attorney General Eric Holder to end the entire system back in 2015.
Unfortunately, the new Attorney General believes that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” and in July overturned Holder’s previous command. Once again, providing law enforcement the power to seize property from those “suspected” of drug activity without needing to file 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 the property to the victims of crime,” Sessions said in a statement.
An internal watchdog may indicate that Sessions intends on running a stricter program. But, critics the program claim that Sessions 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 stated in an interview. Adding, “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”.