Every day, law enforcement officials across the United States seize cash from motorists stopped at the side of the road. It’s called “civil forfeiture,” and the stories of abuse are legion: over $17,000 seized from the owner of a barbecue restaurant in Staunton, Virginia; over $13,000 seized from a former church deacon in DeKalb County, Georgia; and over $50,000 seized from a Christian rock band in Muskogee County, Oklahoma.
Civil forfeiture allows government to seize property based on the mere suspicion that it is connected to a crime. For instance, the fact that the cops think someone has too much cash is enough to warrant a seizure. After the property is seized, in a complete reversal of the way the American justice system is supposed to work, owners must prove their own innocence to get it back.
Speaking in a small conference room surrounded by law enforcement officials, Sessions announced the federal government was rolling back a Holder-era policy that had sharply curtailed so-called adoptive seizures. An adoptive seizure occurs when a state police officer seizes property and then transfers it to the federal government, which then forfeits the property under federal law. Importantly, state law enforcement gets to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of the forfeiture.
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