Federal forfeiture reform

We're written before about the problem of civil asset forfeiture — the law enforcement practice, disproportionately affecting low income people and people of color, of taking property from people on the suspicion that it had something to do with a crime.

This month, following on the heels of forfeiture reform in D.C., Attorney General Holder has implemented reforms at the federal level also. As the Post reports, Holder's new policy

bar[s] local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without warrants or criminal charges. Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.

The change takes effect immediately and contains a few exceptions, but would effectively eliminate all cash and vehicle seizures from the federal program, known as "Equitable Sharing." One of the most troubling aspects of that program was that it enabled the state and local authorities to keep most of the money they seized — thereby providing an incentive for overly aggressive enforcement.

After Holder's announcement, state and local police may still carry out seizures under their own state laws.

At Reason.com, Jacob Sullum fears that an important loophole will undermine the effectiveness of reform: forfeiture is still permitted through joint state-federal task forces, of which there are many in operation.

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