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Attorney General Holder announces end of civil asset forfeitures

Last year, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice would change the way it would prosecute low level drug offenders on possession charges. Essentially, the change was based on an acknowledgement that the vaunted “War on Drugs” that has been waged since the 1980’s and how it has not necessarily worked. Even more concerning, the continuous jailing of drug offenders has not only been tremendously expensive, it has had an adverse effect on the families of poor and minority offenders.

Holder recently announced another substantial change in policy within the Department of Justice. The federal government will no longer accept civil asset forfeiture assets taken by local and state law enforcement agencies pursuant to the government’s Equitable Sharing Program, unless the accused has been convicted of a crime. This program essentially allows federal law enforcement agencies to keep 20 percent of assets taken and forfeited by those charged with crimes, while the remaining 80 percent is sent back to the state where the asset was forfeited. 

The practice has been bemoaned for years as it basically allows state and local law enforcement agencies to ignore state laws governing forfeiture of assets, and that prohibit police departments from keeping assets seized after an arrest, even though the accused may be acquitted, or the charges against them dropped. With Holder’s announcement, it is reported that Congress will consider a bill (that already has bi-partisan support) that will include federal legislation to prohibit the practice.

It remains to be seen when Congress will actually send such a bill to be signed by President Obama, but it exemplifies the fundamental policy changes that must be made regarding drug enforcement.  

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