One week ago today, the U.S. Department of Justice bestowed a gift upon Americans everywhere heading into the new year — albeit a reluctant one. The department announced that due to budget cuts, it would stop sharing with state and local governments the assets seized through civil forfeiture in joint federal investigations.
For practical purposes, this means that a glaring loophole in state civil forfeiture laws has been closed, at least temporarily.
State and municipal law enforcement agencies make big money seizing property from owners who have not been convicted or often even charged with a crime, on the pretext that it was somehow involved in criminal activity. The burden falls upon property owners to prove it wasn’t, and they might have to go to great effort and expense to recover what’s theirs. It sounds terribly un-American, but it is a routine practice in most states. Some states, such as New Mexico, have already begun to reform it, requiring a criminal conviction before property can be lawfully seized. [Read more...]