Sessions Signals New Friendliness to Police Asset Seizure

Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Attorney General Jeff Sessions / Getty Images
July 17, 2017

In a move already attracting controversy, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has signaled new friendliness towards the police practice of seizing and retaining criminals' assets.

Sessions promised a new move on asset forfeiture on Monday, the Associated Press reports. Civil asset forfeiture is a legal tool of the police that allows them to seize property, including cash and cars, without a formal indictment or even evidence of a crime. This is because, according to the Heritage Foundation, civil asset forfeiture proceedings work by bringing charges against the property itself, rather than the owner.

Sessions' announcement came at a meeting of the National District Attorneys Association in Minneapolis, Minn.

"In addition, we hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture—especially for drug traffickers. With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures," Sessions said.

"No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime. Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate as is sharing with our partners," he said.

Asset forfeiture is a vital tool for police departments to strip resources from gangs and other organized crime groups. However, it can also be misused, as the lack of requirement of indictment or evidence means that corrupt departments can seize assets for their own benefit without just cause.

Sessions' announcement represents another reversal of policy from that of his predecessor, former Attorney General Eric Holder, who served during the Obama administration. Holder's Justice Department tightened practices surrounding the sharing of assets seized by local police departments.

Holder shot back at Sessions' policy change on Twitter.

"Another extremist action. This is a reform that was supported by conservatives and progressives, Republicans and Democrats," Holder wrote.