Yes, yes — I never thought I’d write something positive about Eric Holder, but from the looks of today’s news in the Washington Post, Eric Holder has done something about which I (cautiously) agree. Today, Holder announced that he has “barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without warrants or criminal charges. 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.”
The Washington Post published a piece in September which detailed the breadth and depth of asset-seizure forfeiture: $2.5 billion in cash seizures, without warrants, in the 13 years since the September 11th attacks. Additionally, the use of a system called “Equitable Sharing” since 2008 has netted nearly $3 billion in cash and property from Americans. “The program has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them “adopted” by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds. It allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.” The monies typically gained padded budgets and allowed for purchases of special weapons, luxury cars, and other expensive items by local police forces.
The new rule goes into effect immediately; the only items that are excluded from the seizure ban are “illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography”. It comes on the heels of a letter written by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, signed on January 9th, requesting an end to the “Equitable Sharing” program. There is also legislation being worked on to reform this practice.
To be sure, police departments who have grown to depend on the extra monies will not be happy with the change. It has been estimated that asset forfeiture funds up to 20% of police budgets in recent years; opponents are sure to argue that the loss of money will make it more difficult to help fight terrorism, drugs, and crime. So be it. Unquestionably, the practice of civil asset forfeiture and the lack of due process has been an assault on civil liberties for years.
….now, if we could just do the same to the IRS asset seizure program. You can read more about its egregious practices here.