The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced that it is suspending its “Equitable-Sharing” Asset Forfeiture Program.
The “Equitable-Sharing” Asset Forfeiture Program allowed local law enforcement to bring asset seizure cases in Federal court and keep up to 80% of the seized assets. The program is not without controversy, even drawing the attention of the Washington Post:
Asset forfeiture has become an increasingly contentious practice in recent years. It lets police seize and keep cash and property from people who are never convicted — and in many cases, never charged — with wrongdoing. Recent reports have found that the use of the practice has exploded in recent years, prompting concern that, in some cases, police are motivated more by profits and less by justice.
As an attorney who has represented clients facing asset seizure cases in Iowa, Illinois, and in Federal court, I know that the police and prosecutors abuse the process. Seizures cases are often targeted at clients who lack the ability to afford an attorney, or where it would cost the person more than the value of the seized money or property to fight the case. I have seen many asset forfeiture cases where the evidence against the client was virtually non-existent, and it seemed the government’s main goal was to make the process as expensive and taxing as possible, so as to discourage the client from fighting for their property.
The DOJ explains that the suspension of the payments to local law enforcement under this program is the result of budget cuts. Regardless of the reasoning, the suspension of this questionable program is a good thing for justice in the United States, as the “Equitable-Sharing” Asset Forfeiture Program is an often-abused tool.