Justice to End Role in Asset SeizuresBut local police could continue undeterred Jan 29 2015
It's been a stunning practice of lawlessness that you thought could not happen in America yet no less than the U.S. Justice Department was behind it. A program meant to cripple drug traffickers (and mob syndicates before that) by encouraging local law enforcement to confiscate their houses, autos, boats and cash and then sharing in the proceeds has gone badly wrong, with local police departments preying on ordinary citizens and using stolen assets to fill holes in their depleted post-2008 budgets.
We told that story in full in "Law Enforcement's License to Steal" last year, an account that will leave you with another reason to wonder whether those who speak of an emerging "police state" have reason for thinking so. The article recounts how police expand roadside stops for minor or imaginary infractions into auto searches and seizure of whatever was found. Motorists are forced either to sign a waiver that relinquishes ownership of their possessions or else be detained and charged with a felony. Most see no recourse but to move on down the road. If they do try to recover their possessions, they must overcome the reversed norm that they are guilty until they can prove their innocence.
Local police could then contact the Justice Department for "adoption" of a seizure by its Equitable Sharing program, making it a federal matter that trumped whatever state law there might be that prohibited seizures without due process. Equitable Sharing then allowed the cops to keep up to 80% of whatever cash or sold off assets they had grabbed.
It took investigative reports in The New Yorker magazine and The Washington Post as well as pressure from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) to awaken Eric Holder's Justice Department to the highway robbery their program had spawned. Justice says it will discontinue its participation in Equitable Sharing.
The question remains whether state and local police units around the country, now addicted to this new source of revenue, will continue on their own, preying on the civilian populace they are sworn to protect.
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