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Things John Oliver Warned Us About: Civil Asset Forfeiture

By Dan Hamamura | Politics | July 19, 2017 |

By Dan Hamamura | Politics | July 19, 2017 |

Back in 2014, John Oliver ran an excellent piece explaining civil asset forfeiture, which is a policy that allows the police to seize assets (money, cars, houses, etc.) that they believe were involved in criminal activity. In theory, this is used to, say, seize the assets of drug dealers or violent criminals when they’re arrested and convicted of a crime.

In practice, however, the policy has often been abused, seizing property from law-abiding citizens solely on suspicion of a crime, often without a conviction or even filing formal charges. And because many of the victims don’t have the time or money to deal with the legal process to try and get their property back, the property is then forfeited, and the proceeds just *happen* to provide additional funding to the police department that seized it. It’s a terrible abuse of power, and the piece is worth a re-watch, if you have the time:

While asset forfeiture hasn’t gone away, it has, in recent years, been reduced somewhat. In 2015 the Department of Justice, under Eric Holder, issued new guidance that restricted the practice at the federal level. In addition, a number of states have passed reforms to fight abuse, such as, you know, crazy ideas like requiring a criminal conviction before the assets can be permanently seized. And both Democrats and Republicans have been pushing for further reform of the practice.

Enter Jeff Sessions.

This new policy (which reverses what Holder did in 2015) not only allows the DOJ to once again expand the use of asset forfeiture as a tool to take money from people for no reason “curtail violent criminals,” it also means that potentially, authorities can seize assets under the more relaxed federal guidelines, which would supersede those reforms passed by the states.

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Outside of Sessions, whose brain seems to have stopped formulating new thoughts sometime in the 1980s, it was pretty tough to find anyone who actually supports the expansion:

Eric Holder


Rand Paul

Mike Lee

Darrell Issa

The Koch Brothers

(Look, I’m not linking to Infowars, but I watched the video and they hate it, too.)

It takes something really, really special to unite people on all sides of the political spectrum like this (it was the one thing that BOTH major party platforms agreed on last year, and even Clarence Thomas is opposed), but the abuse of civil asset forfeiture really is that disgusting.