Saturday, September 23, 2017

33.1 - Good News: House pushes back against civil asset forfeiture

Good News: House pushes back against civil asset forfeiture

I have some Good News on a topic I have discussed before, but to get to it I have to give some background first.

I have talked before (for example, here) about civil asset forfeiture, a practice under which police can seize property when they merely suspect it's used in, or purchased with the profits from, criminal activity - and they can keep it even if the owner is not convicted or even charged with any crime, with the original owner under the almost-impossible-to-meet obligation of proving a negative, that the property had no connection to any crime.

The practice has become controversial over the past several years and nearly half of all states have passed some form of asset forfeiture reform as a result of a combination of public pressure and media investigations that revealed asset forfeiture abuses and their disproportionate impact on poor and minority residents.

As a result of that pushback, in January 2015, then-Attorney General Eric Holder said he was mostly ending the so-called "Equitable Sharing" program, one under which the feds could "adopt" a seizure made by state or local cops then give 80% of the value of what was seized back to the cops - which meant it was nothing but a scheme enabling state cops to get around state-level restrictions preventing them from profiting on such seizures.

That turned sour in July of this year when Attorney General Jeff "I am not a racist, I swear" Sessions said he was re-instituting Equitable Sharing.

Which brings us, finally, to the Good News: In one of those weird moments of joint concern, GOPpers focused on property rights on the one hand and liberals and progressives focused on privacy and the 4th amendment on the other joined together to offer amendments to the massive Fiscal 2018 appropriations bill moving through Congress, amendments to undo Sessions' move and to restrict others parts of asset forfeiture.

One of those other parts are "restructuring" laws which allow the IRS to seize the bank accounts of small business owners that frequently deposited or withdrew amounts under $10,000 under the assumption that was done to hide criminal activity. Again, no actual evidence was required and the feds could just keep what they took. On September 5, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill to undo those laws.

And on September 12, the House passed by voice vote - which indicates overwhelming support - a measure to block Sessions' roll-back of the Obama-era limitations on Equitable Sharing and lock those limitations into law.

And remember, these were not committee votes, this was the whole House. These provisions still have to get through the Senate, but opposition to civil asset forfeiture lives there as well, so while it's not sure thing, is surely is within the range of possibility.

And that is Good News.

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