Attorney General Eric Holder Friday moved to limit a practice that I can’t even believe is happening. I have to be careful here, because it seems so unlikely, but Eric Holder has apparently struck a blow for freedom.
Under “civil forfeiture” laws, police are permitted to seize your property – a practice called “adoption” – without a warrant and then make you prove – under, I suppose, the theory of the presumption of guilt – that you own it and deserve it back. Holder ended the ability of local police departments to make the seizures under federal law, which will diminish the practice, though not entirely eliminate it.
According to the Wall Street Journal:
The practice has brought in an astonishing $3 billion since 2008, covering about 55,000 seizures. Many of the targets are small businesses caught unfairly in some prosecution maw without the legal means to fight back.
According to the Institute for Justice, which tracks and litigates civil-forfeiture cases, 80% of people whose property is seized by the feds are never charged with a crime. The funds gathered by state and local law enforcement often exceed annual operating budgets, creating incentives for police to take property first, answer questions later.
The Washington Post did an investigation which found widespread abuse and injustice:
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.
Police spent the seizure proceeds with little oversight, in some cases buying luxury cars, high-powered weapons and military-grade gear such as armored cars, according to an analysis of Justice Department data obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests.
I can’t tell you exactly why Holder did this. The last time I got inside his head, I saw too much scary stuff, and I refuse to go back. Reportedly, there was political pressure from both sides of the aisle.
Whatever the cause, great job, Mr. Holder.