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Holder Severely Limits Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Program

January 16, 2015  | 

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without evidence that a crime occurred.

Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.

Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing, the Washington Post reports.

The program has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them “adopted” by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds. The program allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of the adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.

While police can continue to make seizures under their own state laws, the federal program was easy to use and required most of the proceeds from the seizures to go to local and state police departments. Many states require seized proceeds to go into the general fund.

A Justice official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the attorney general’s motivation, said Holder “also believes that the new policy will eliminate any possibility that the adoption process might unintentionally incentivize unnecessary stops and seizures.”

Holder’s decision follows a Washington Post investigation published in September that found that police have made cash seizures worth almost $2.5 billion from motorists and others without search warrants or indictments since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Post found that local and state police routinely pulled over drivers for minor traffic infractions, pressed them to agree to warrantless searches and seized large amounts of cash without evidence of wrongdoing. The law allows such seizures and forces the owners to prove their property was legally acquired in order to get it back.


Comments (15)

Displaying 1 - 15 of 15

Forrest @ 1/16/2015 1:38 PM

GOOD! Civil forfeture is armed robbery by the government. Due Process is a thing in this nation and unless you are willing to go through the trouble of an arrest and trial, you should not be able to take someone's belongings simply because you believe that it may be used in a crime- or worse, simply because you can.

It wasn't long ago that there was a story in the news about a former stripper who was traveling cross-country to start a club on the east coast when she was stopped and found to be carrying over a million dollars in cash. Without arrest or tiral, this money was taken from her and she was left broke while her business partner was stuck with debt collecters wondering where the money he had expected to have on hand had gone. After more than a year of stating her case and showing proof that her money was being carried for legitimate use, she got that money back.

Sorry guys, but it's not up to you to tell someone what they intend to do with their property and take it away.

Mitch @ 1/16/2015 4:28 PM

Holder is going out in a blaze. He will go down as the most anti police AG in the history of the USA

Ima Leprechaun @ 1/17/2015 3:24 AM

When this law first passed I thought it was the stupidest law I had ever seen. They never had to charge a person but a physical object that might have been involved in something that looked like a crime is charged with a crime then seized. I could not figure out how they got around the fourth and sixth amendments. I asked that same question in a training seminar with the FBI and they just said they could do what they wanted. State laws allowed for seizure of property and money but there had to be probable cause and a person involved in an actual criminal act.

kevCopAz @ 1/17/2015 7:27 AM

I agree with Ima (above). Always thought that this was a "go around" of the Constitution myself. In Az our laws allow this but only when a crime has occurred and there is PC that the items seized were used or were the profits from a criminal act. The Feds were running wild with their version and sorry to say I agree with Holder (will wonders never cease!). this time!. Yet if they got away with it one time, once he is out the Feds can just ramp it up again. I think that the locals should refuse to use these type of draconian laws and stay with enforcing state ones only. The Feds get away with so much, they offer these programs just to seize control of the locals with the $ they wave in their faces, not just in law enforcement but with many, many other programs. We in the states should avoid any such deals with the Feds and get them back down to their constitutional size.

Field McConnell @ 1/17/2015 8:01 AM

Eric Holder and my own sibling Kristine Marcy have been abusing authority since 1984 in the USDoJ Asset Forfeiture Fund. The reason Eric is altering course now is both he and Kristine Marcy know they are exposed. A third name shares in the exposure but you may not recognize the name Barry Soetoro Punahou '79. If not, google that name.

Rex Rutherford @ 1/17/2015 8:30 PM

I think the point most are missing here, is that the Federal agencies can still use their asset forfeiture laws, just not local and state agencies. Nothing is going to change except that local and state agencies will now get a lower percentage of the money seized. I always try to use federal forfeiture proceedings versus state (California) because with the Fed’s our agency gets 70-80% of the money versus 55% through the state. My guess is that Holder caved to the pressure which came from the State and local county DA’s who were missing out on a big chunk of money.

Oh, and really, a stripper with $1M cash? Why wasn’t the money in a bank and wired across country? Probably because she would have had to pay taxes on unreported income which may not have been acquired completely legal. That’s exactly what the asset forfeiture laws are designed to do. Prevent people from making a profit from illegal enterprises whether it is drugs, prostitution or white collar fraud.

RB Moore @ 1/18/2015 10:12 AM

Rex hit the nail on the head. I'll bet, if you get the whole story on the stripper, she voluntarily abandoned the money after telling the law enforcement officers:
1. it wasn't her money, and
2. she didn't know how the money got into her car.
If she was the lawful owner of the money, she could have gotten an attorney and gotten her money returned by a court.

Concerned Citizen @ 1/18/2015 6:30 PM

I've heard or seen the story about the stripper with lots of $ on an old Inside Edition, or A Current Affair or some news mag during the 1990's like 20/20. What irks me is this. People are attacking the stripper, because she doesn't want her money to be TAXED? But the USA has become more like the USSR, over regulation and UNJUST TAXATION! You know.. Unjust Taxation that helped FOUND THE COUNTRY?! Anyway if people are so uptight about a stripper I can find an ILLEGAL ALIEN easy! Just go to a Mex, or Chinese restaurant they where they work, and pay NO TAXES! But they enjoy welfare, and free schooling! While Mom & Pop USA PAY PROPERTY TAXES up the ****! If there is NO PROF a crime is committed, there is no RIGHT to cease people's property! If people were more worried about ILLEGALS $TEALING money. Then a cheap adult entertainer the world would be a better place! But I guess people like double standards! Here's a "hint" ILLEGAL is in the name.. ILLEGAL ALIEN! Duh!

Ima Leprechaun @ 1/19/2015 1:29 AM

Rex, it's her money and she can do whatever she wants with it. How do you know the taxes were not already paid. I have no problem with people hording money, banks are crooks. Rex, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Federal asset forfeiture is unconstitutional and someday that will be proven in court.

TBOW426 @ 1/20/2015 7:46 AM

So, I stop Shabazz Smith, a known gang banger and doper, who has $50,000 cash in coffee cans smeared with grease and wrapped in plastic. K-9 indicates on the money, but no dope is present and no criminal activity. He says his grandmother died and left him the money so I am to assume he is telling the truth, paid taxes etc. and let him go with it? I don't think so.

plato's playdough @ 1/21/2015 1:40 AM

So if two cars had rolled into Ferguson from out of state, and each had 1M in cash as they entered a rioting area, they NOW can not be stopped, since no crime has yet been committed?

Another van is stopped and found to have full auto rifles, but no crime has yet been committed, so they can be on their way to KFC for dinner, and have a nice day?

Ima Leprechaun @ 1/22/2015 5:59 AM

When did local law enforcement go into the tax collection business? I have never heard of a beat cop enforcing the tax code. If you suspect fraud turn it over the the IRS, they are more than prepared to deal with tax fraud. Never assume anything, but if there is zero probable cause to make an arrest you have no case anyway. It's his money whether you personally think it's not. As for the above Ferguson scenario there is no probable cause to even make the traffic stop given your parameters. If there IS probable cause like illegal weapons then arrest for the weapons is indicated if there was probable cause for the stop to begin with. Other than securing the money for the suspect until he is released there is no crime in hording money. I take it none of you have ever had police training this is basic 101 training.

Jon @ 1/26/2016 7:35 AM

October 27th 2014 I got pulled over I was driving a 1999 Honda Accord that my father had given me the month prior because my mother had passed away beginning of July. And it originally was her car. I work the Texas Renaissance festival. Therefore I'm pretty exhausted on Mondays I sleep all day get up go to my storage unit to get some of the money my mother had left me and I had my boss is deposits for our shop at the Renaissance. They pull me over I refuse to search because I don't feel like being molested by police officers as I'm driving home at 10 o'clock at night. They bring a drug dog out who after five minutes of walking around my car the guy said the dog alerted because the dog sat down. They tell me they found crack cocaine in my car. At which point they arrest me I had to pay $1,000 to bond out that I did not get back first court date my court appointed try to get me to plee out 2 a year state jail . Next court date I see that attorney and she's damn near in tears lab report came back it was tablet binders in flavoring agents that they found or should I say they planted whether they found it or not they knew it wasn't drugs. Right before that I was served papers that they are taking away my money and my dead mother's car.

Jon @ 1/26/2016 7:38 AM

The district attorney called me not to prosecute the man that kidnap me. Or the guy who falsely had a dog go around my car and alert on something that was not there and she wasn't calling to give me back the money I was forced to give in order to acquire my freedom. So on top of all the sick and twisted things the cops do the district attorney calls me. ... she asked me to sign over 2,500 to them 2500 over to the cops and I would keep 2500 and I would get to keep my dead mother's car.

Jon @ 1/26/2016 7:41 AM

She told me my money would be going to child support anyway so it really wouldn't matter to me if I got the money back or not. Really are you really asking me or forcibly trying to take my money that would go to provide for my kids. It's funny but realistically Morley whether they legally get away with it or not the police now days are no better than child molesters if not worse because they are working with the law to molest people. ... kind of like the SS did in World War 2. But those cops to go to church every day just as the SS did all the holy water in the world won't wash away the crimes of you in your brethren by cops are arresting them they are just as guilty.

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