Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Monday that he is pushing forward with a new directive to encourage law enforcement agencies to seize more money and property from those who break the law.
"We hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture — especially for drug traffickers," Sessions said in his remarks to the National District Attorneys Association."No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime. Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate as is sharing with our partners."
Under state forfeiture laws police agencies are allowed to confiscate private assets that are suspected of being involved in criminal activity. In certain states, residents can have their possessions seized by police without being charged or arrested for a crime.
Ben Ruddell, a criminal justice attorney at the ACLU of Illinois, told Circa that law enforcement has been abusing these laws for years.
"Nobody is arguing that criminals who have property derived for crime should keep it," Ruddell said. "But there are people who have had their property seized by police and have not been charged or arrested for a crime. "
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have asked for reforms on civil forfeiture laws after reports showed that law enforcement agencies were confiscating millions of dollar's worth of people's possession's every year.
For instance, in Pennsylvania police agencies can retain 100 percent of the value of forfeited property. Between the years of 2002 and 2013 The Legal Intelligencer found that police in Philadelphia took more than $69 million worth of property from individuals.
Some states like Arizona have tried to reform their civil forfeiture laws. In April, Arizona lawmakers passed legislation that requires prosecutors to provide “clear and convincing evidence” to a judge before they seize property or other assets.
Circa launched in July of 2016 with its first short documentary “SEIZED” which details the practice of civil asset forfeiture.
This documentary depicts the devastating toll that civil asset forfeiture can have on a person’s life.The film later went on to win an Emmy in June 2017.