by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The latest print edition of National Review offers a dim view of the proposed increase in federal government reliance on civil asset forfeiture.
Attorney General Sessions announced his intention to end certain Obama-administration restrictions on civil asset forfeiture, a peculiar and problematic feature of American law enforcement. Government agencies seize property, often cash or vehicles, from Americans suspected of being involved in criminal activity, usually drug trafficking, often in cases in which those suspects are never even charged with a crime, let alone convicted. Police agencies are permitted to keep and enjoy the proceeds of their seizures, which creates am unseemly conflict of interest. And the federal government has engaged in a bureaucratic scheme called “equitable sharing” in order to get around state-level restrictions on civil forfeiture, in effect operating a federal money-laundering program to enable forfeiture cases that would otherwise be forbidden by state law. Rather than interfere with the government of the 13 states that have wisely chosen to require an actual criminal conviction before permitting asset forfeiture, Congress should follow the example of those states and enact similar reforms at the national level. Sessions is right that serious criminals ought to lose the fruits of their crimes. But we should charge and convict them first. This is a due-process question, and the process that is due in criminal cases is a criminal trial.