Good Things Still Happen!

The news isn’t all terrible. (Okay, mostly it is. But not all.) The GOP’s latest effort to strip healthcare from millions of Americans appears to be dead, and Patheos has reported on a rare and welcome bit of bipartisanship:

The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved three amendments late Tuesday that would defund a notorious federal forfeiture program that was recently restored by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions…

Sponsored by Reps. Justin Amash, Tim Walberg, and Jamie Raskin and co-sponsored by Reps. Steve Cohen, Jim Sensenbrenner, and Mark Sanford, the amendments address so-called “adoptive” seizures and forfeitures. Under the federal adoption program, state and local law enforcement can seize property without filing criminal charges, and then transfer the seized property to federal prosecutors for forfeiture under federal law. Local and state agencies can collect up to 80 percent of the forfeiture proceeds.

This pernicious practice had been curtailed under former AG Holder, it has been reinstated by Sessions. The amendments cut off funding for the reinstated program. Political sentiment across the spectrum has shifted strongly against asset forfeiture; more than a dozen states have moved to restrict the practice over the past few years.

For those who may not be familiar with civil forfeiture, it is a practice that allows police to seize — and then keep or sell — any property they allege is involved in a crime. Owners of the property need not ever be arrested or convicted of a crime for their cash, cars, or real property to be confiscated by the government.

As the ACLU has explained,

Forfeiture was originally presented as a way to cripple large-scale criminal enterprises by diverting their resources. But today, aided by deeply flawed federal and state laws, many police departments use forfeiture to benefit their bottom lines, making seizures motivated by profit rather than crime-fighting. For people whose property has been seized through civil asset forfeiture, legally regaining such property is notoriously difficult and expensive, with costs sometimes exceeding the value of the property.

After Sessions moved to restore the program, The Atlantic looked at the numbers, which are staggering:

Civil forfeiture has existed in some form since the colonial era, although most of the current laws date to the War on Drugs’ heyday in the 1980s. Law-enforcement officials like Sessions defend modern civil forfeiture as a way to limit the resources of drug cartels and organized-crime groups. It’s also a lucrative tactic for law-enforcement agencies in an era of tight budgets: A Justice Department inspector general’s report in April found that federal forfeiture programs had taken in almost $28 billion over the past decade, and The Washington Post reported that civil-forfeiture seizures nationwide in 2015 surpassed the collective losses from all burglaries that same year.

Civil forfeiture has always been problematic, even in theory. As practiced, it makes a joke of the rule of law, not to mention constitutional values like fundamental fairness and limited governmental authority.

Let’s hope the Senate follows the example set by the House, and tells Jeff Sessions there are limits to his regressive efforts.


  1. I recall my ex (a cop) telling me twenty years ago about his department’s property seizures and that they used the proceeds from selling that property to help fund their operations or to buy new equipment that they had been wanting, but couldn’t get the council to give them the money.

    It appears to be a form of legalized theft in many cases.

  2. Effective and fair law enforcement is expensive. It is not just the cost of policing, but also the expense of running a prosecutor’s office and the judiciary. If you don’t want to pay the taxes necessary for that, this kind of practice will seep its way into our laws with everyone turning a blind eye to what is a kind of legalized theft.

  3. My little IN town practices seizure, but a few years back they were unable to account for the whereabouts of some seized vehicles and cash (I think it was $100K, but don’t remember exactly). As a result the Town Marshall was asked to resign. I am not aware of any further investigations which should have been conducted. But, the story has a happy ending – the disgraced Town Marshall has been re-elected several times as County Sheriff. Makes one wonder what’s going on.


    Civil forfeiture is one of those many legal system practices that contribute to the citizen’s perception that “there is no justice” and erodes faith in the justice system.

  5. @ Larry – I don’t believe that we have ever had a “justice system”. We have had nothing more than a Legal System. I don’t know how the moniker of Justice was ever attached to the legal system.

  6. There is little “justice” to be found in our justice system any level.

    As for “Good Things Still Happen!”; think anything good will come from Indiana’s Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly flying here today with Trump and will be with him when he makes his speech? If so; which side to you believe this “good” will fall on?

    Donnelly’s recent appearing to cozy up to the right is questionable and bears close watching. This can not be considered the same hope President Obama had that both parties would sit at the bargaining table and work out our differences. The Three Stooges; Trump/Pence/Donnelly are no comedy team.

  7. Does anyone else see the connection between confidence in the justice system and hope?

    Hope cannot exist for struggling people unless they perceive that the justice/legal system works impartially.

    A failed legal system negates Obama’s Hope campaign, as we have seen, as well as Trump’s hope to make America Great Again, which we are in the process of seeing.

  8. I can remember prosecuting defendants for maintaining a lottery before the government, seeing an opportunity to make money and reduce taxes on the rich, took over such operations. Nice to know the government is considering giving up its burglary role to uncharged and unconvicted burglars and others who may have assets available for seizure. Now if we can just get the government to quit stealing money via larceny by statute from the poor to fund tax breaks for the superrich we may have reason to again believe in what Madison was trying to bequeath to succeeding generations.

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