Attorney General

Holder announces curbs on forfeiture sharing program; what impact will they have?

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Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday announced new curbs on a program in which state and local police use federal law to seize property connected to criminal activity and keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds. The other 20 percent goes to the federal government.

Holder said the equitable sharing program will mostly be eliminated, but exceptions will be made for property related to public safety concerns, including illegal guns, ammunition, explosives and materials associated with child pornography. In addition, the program will continue in the case of seizures by joint state-federal task forces or made pursuant to federal seizure warrants. Holder’s order is here (PDF).

The impact of the changes is examined by Washington Post blog the Watch (in stories here and here), and in opinion columns published by the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) and the New Republic.

Many state laws have stricter evidentiary standards on forfeiture, or they require forfeiture proceeds to go into state general funds or school funds to eliminate police incentives to seize items, according to the Post. The federal program allowed police to bypass the state laws.

A New Republic column suggests the change may spur more use of criminal asset forfeiture—the seizure of property after a criminal conviction. Nor does it curb the federal government’s use of civil forfeiture.

The Wall Street Journal also points out that the sharing program could be reinstated by a future attorney general. The long-term solution is federal legislation to address abuses, according to the columns in the Wall Street Journal and the New Republic.

Typo corrected on Feb. 3.

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