The U.S. House of Representatives yesterday passed a bipartisan amendment to the appropriations package cosponsored by Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) preventing police forces from seizing private property for profit without due process. Known as adoptive forfeiture, the practice allows the federal government to accept money and property that has been seized by state law enforcement agencies from people, in some cases, before individuals are formally charged or proven guilty of a crime. This practice creates a loophole for states that have adopted stringent, constitutionally sound asset forfeiture laws and allows them to continue practices that are otherwise deemed illegal at the state level.
“Attorney General Sessions’ recent announcement to expand civil asset forfeiture allows local law enforcement to bypass state laws and seize property from people with the lowest possible burden of evidence without concern for whether the person is eventually charged or convicted,” said Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. “While some will tell you this is necessary to go after big drug cartels, the reality is the median value of the adoptive forfeiture seizures is around $9,000.
“Not only is this median value not a sign of major drug trafficking operations, but seizures tend to be focused on poorer neighborhoods. Between 2012 and 2017, the median value of assets seized by Cook County police was just over $1,000; in Philadelphia in 2015, the median value was just $192.
“This policy does not discriminate between the innocent and the guilty. Rather, this policy places the responsibility on private citizens to prove their innocence rather than put the appropriate burden on law enforcement to prove guilt. All too often, innocent people without legal representation never see their money or property again, and even those who are proven innocent have no promise their property will be returned.
“The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution exists to protect the citizens of this country from being deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. In practice and in principle, adoptive forfeiture is a violation of that Fifth Amendment.”
The practice of adoptive forfeiture was significantly drawn back during the Obama Administration and limited to exceptions related to public safety. However, Attorney General Sessions recently issued a policy directive reauthorizing adoptive forfeiture practices. This decision marks a return to previous practices that run contrary to safeguarding civil liberties.