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Jeff Sessions Expands Controversial Asset Forfeitures: Why It Matters

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new policy that increases the amount of money and property police can seize.
Posted at 3:35 PM, Jul 19, 2017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new policy Wednesday that will increase the amount of money and property police seize from people suspected of a crime — especially drug trafficking.

The practice is called asset forfeiture, and it can be pretty controversial.

Only 13 states require a conviction before police can seize assets. Every other state requires varying degrees of evidence before seizing assets.

Police can take a wide range of things during forfeiture: everything from office buildings to cars to cold hard cash.

Law enforcement agencies say the practice can disrupt criminal organizations in a way convictions don't.

But critics say it has become a way for police departments to meet their bottom line.

"It's kind of like pennies from heaven," said Kenneth Burton — police chief for Columbia, Missouri — back in 2012.

In 2015, former Attorney General Eric Holder tried to make it harder for law enforcement in states with stricter forfeiture laws to seize assets. He wrote a memo limiting adoptive forfeiture.

Adoptive forfeiture allows states to seize assets under state law but then request that federal agencies take those assets and forfeit them under federal law. Up to 80 percentof the proceeds from those forfeitures can be returned to the state and local agencies.

But this new policy reverses that memo. When Sessions announced earlier this week planned expansions to forfeitures, he said they were "appropriate" and specifically mentioned the adoptive variety.