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Multiple Legislators Looking To Neutralize AG Sessions' Rollback Of Federal Forfeiture Reforms

Published: September 6, 2017
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Source: Tech Dirt

Jolly new Attorney General Jeff Sessions can't wait to put the screws to all those Americans who didn't have the sense to seek employment as law enforcement officers. Sessions wants harsher drug sentencing, less oversight, and the revival of programs abandoned in the 80s and 90s after they proved to have zero effect on rising crime rates.

Sessions, with the support of the Trump Administration, is rolling back the last administration's minor reforms to the 1033 program, which allowed local law enforcement agencies to obtain MRAPs, assault rifles, grenade launchers… whatever it took to defend the annual Mule Day Parade from terrorist attacks. Fun fact: these same items are apparently crucial components of flood rescue efforts in Houston, TX. [Cue shooting star and the words "The More You Know," soon to be riddled with bullet holes for startling MRAP-riding 1033 recipients with their sudden appearance…]

Asset forfeiture is coming back, too. Sessions has opened the federal loophole closed by his predecessor, allowing local agencies to give the finger to legislators and the people they serve as they bypass local reform efforts and cash in on other people's property. Sessions appeared to be this close to visible arousal when discussing the return of the Federal Forfeiture Loophole during a law enforcement conference in Alabama.

"I love that program," Sessions said. "We had so much fun doing that, taking drug dealers' money and passing it out to people trying to put drug dealers in jail. What's wrong with that?"

It's a rhetorical question, but only because Sessions is completely uninterested in the answer. What's wrong with civil asset forfeiture could fill several publications (and has!) but there's no talking to a man who's paid to revel in his deliberate ignorance. Putting people in jail is a concept wholly divorced from civil asset forfeiture, which is why it's been abused so often and so thoroughly. Once law enforcement was freed from the burden of actual proof, anything found anywhere near anyone possessing any amount of drugs was fair game for opportunistic officers. (Note: drug possession is completely optional! A dog can tell cops to take stuff, even if there are no drugs present. And you can't cross-examine a dog to see if it actually smelled drugs or just wanted to make its uniformed human happy.)

Sideloading forfeitures through the federal adoption program allows cops to bypass forfeiture efforts in several states. That would include those which have established a conviction requirement, basically eliminating civil asset forfeiture altogether. Unfortunately for Sessions, there are still a few troublemakers on Capitol Hill hoping to undercut the improper advances made by the new AG towards Americans' personal property. Civil rights watchdog FreedomWorks has compiled a list of amendments to the DOJ appropriations bill that would suck the fun right out of taking money from people just because.

Amendment 46 to Division C: Submitted by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), this amendment would prohibit the use of funds from being used to carry out Attorney General Sessions' directive. The problem with this amendment is there were some minor positive aspects to the otherwise terrible directive, such setting a minimum value of $10,000 before seized property or cash can be adopted, requiring more proof of criminal activity, and doubling the time required for the property owner to receive notice of their rights. Because the amendment would prohibit funding for the directive, it would prevent the positive reforms from being implemented.


Amendment 70 to Division C: Submitted by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), this amendment would prohibit funds from being used to facilitate adoptive seizures of property or cash. The amendment references the directive from the previous administration, but it's tailored to address the specific activity, adoptive seizures, for prohibition. Presumably, it would leave the minor positive reforms in Attorney General Sessions' directive in place.

Amendment 87 to Division C: Submitted by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the amendment would reduce the appropriation for the Justice Department's Assets Forfeiture Fund by $10 million and increases funding by the same amount to the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program, which deals with forensic kits in cases of sexual assault. The merits of the DNA program notwithstanding, the amendment doesn't directly address Attorney General Sessions' directive.

Amendment 127 to Division C: Submitted by Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), the amendment would prohibit the use of funds appropriated from being used for adoptive seizures. It's similar to Rep. Amash's amendment, but it isn't directly tied to a specific directive or order.

Unfortunately, the attachment of amendments to a "must-pass" bill doesn't guarantee any of the riders will make it past preliminary discussions. If they were allowed to make it out for a vote, FreedomWorks posits they have a good chance of passing. Given the support they might gather if allowed into the wild, these amendments likely have a slim chance of becoming anything more than excess weight to be shed in favor of more powerful lawmakers' pet boondoggles and President-pleasing riders.

But there's still a small chance Sessions' love affair with legalized theft will be broken up by interloping Congressmen. And that would be a joy to behold: AG Sessions having to turn away law enforcement agencies desperate to have the shaky seizures legitimized by federal adoption procedures… and Sessions having the power -- but not the funds -- to do it.


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