Department of Justice Policy
Issued on July 19, 2017
On July 19, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued an order that sought to reinstate and expand an asset seizure technique, which is known as “federal adoption.” This technique applies to assets and property seized by local law enforcement officers. State and local governments first seize the assets. Then, instead of getting a state conviction, the states willingly give the assets to feds (adoption) to forfeit where a criminal conviction is not required. As an incentive, feds promise to return seized funds to states to fund local budgets.
The order issued by the Attorney General seeks to make certain there is  sufficient evidence of criminal activity before federal adoption occurs,  the evidence is well documented,  local law enforcement partners have training to utilize federal adoption and  that there is appropriate supervisory review of decisions to approve forfeiture.
The rationale given for the use of state asset forfeiture laws is because officials sought to prevent criminals from profiting from their crimes with their ill – gotten gains. Cash and vehicles that were seized from criminals would instead be forfeited to the local government but only after a criminal conviction. Federal adoption rules came into play as a way to sidestep the restrictions of state asset forfeiture laws. By collaborating with the Federal Government on asset seizure and forfeiture cases, there was no longer any requirement of a criminal conviction as would be required in a state case. And the burden of proof of proving that the seizure was illegal was shifted from the government to the accused. And finally, the monies that were “adopted” by the Federal Government were given back to local law enforcement to fund their law enforcement budgets.
This highly controversial technique, which had been banned under Attorney General Eric Holder, is nothing more than a way to avoid having to follow state procedures (requiring criminal convictions and being innocent until the government proves you are guilty). And by giving seized monies back to local law enforcement units to fund their budgets, AG Sessions is impermissibly using a profit incentive for law enforcement to break the law and trample on the Due Process and property rights of American citizens. Attorney General Sessions is hoping to fight crime except he doesn’t want to follow established law and procedure to do it. The bottom line is that a citizen cannot use a court proceeding to protect his property rights if his assets get seized and then forfeited under federal laws. Sessions prefers this method (Holder was against it) because then he doesn’t have to answer to a judge or court about his police methods. And by giving monies back to local governments, he is encouraging law enforcement to act based on profit and not according to how the law says police must act. It is kind of an intimidation tactic.
- Institute for Justice – nonprofit group’s comprehensive report on civil asset forfeiture abuses.
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – info page on civil asset forfeiture.
- End Civil Forfeiture – nonprofit website with personal stories of American citizens abused by civil forfeiture laws.
This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.