For years, it’s been perfectly okay for police to seize property they think might be connected to a crime, even if the person from whom they’re seizing said property isn’t arrested and charged with anything. In response to growing abuse of that practice, 24 states passed laws that restricted the police’s ability to do that. Now, though, Trump’s DOJ has decided to step on states’ rights in this matter and nullify the laws they specifically put in place to protect people’s 4th Amendment rights.
Trump’s DOJ, under Jeff Sessions, is rolling back a federal rule that severely limited the ability of police to seize your property and turn it over to the federal government so federal prosecutors could “forfeit” the property and 80 percent of the proceeds could go back to the state.
That practice is known as adoptive seizures, and they’re how police departments have been getting around state laws protecting people from civil asset forfeiture (which is the practice of seizing your property on the mere suspicion that it might be connected with a crime, without due process). Police have abused the practice of civil asset forfeiture for forever.
Here’s how it works: Suppose you’re carrying a lot of cash and the cops go through your wallet during a traffic stop. They could take it by claiming they believe it’s connected to, say, illicit drug dealing, and walk away with it even if there’s no evidence of drugs anywhere on your person or in your car, and without arresting you and charging you. And there’s nothing you can do about it.
The laws these 24 states passed were intended to protect you and everyone from that. With Sessions’ decision to roll back restrictions on adoptive seizures, though, police can again take your money or other valuables without due process, even if you live in a state with protective laws. They can do it during a mere traffic stop. Traffic stops are already used as pretexts for unlawful searches. Police already disproportionately target minorities–and especially black people–with that. This is just going to make that abuse worse, particularly for minorities.
In other words, civil asset forfeiture and adoptive seizures have become legalized theft and the Department of Justice is making it easier for police departments to practice said theft. Nobody is really safe from this – least of all minorities, particularly the black community.
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