The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced on Wednesday that it is reviving a provision of the federal civil asset forfeiture program, which was suspended [JURIST report] in September 2015. The DOJ is reviving a portion of this program in response to President Donald Trump’s order to reduce crime because asset forfeiture diminishes organized crime. Attorney General Jeff Sessions outlined the changes to the program that will help better protect law-abiding citizens. Any state or local law enforcement agency must provide sufficient evidence of criminal activity before asset seizure is permitted. One safeguard to ensure the evidence standard is met is the “Request for Adoption of State and Local Seizure” form, which requires the law enforcement agency to provide additional evidence supporting probable cause before seizure is permitted. The policy directive [text] notes that additional safeguards may also be placed on the adoption of cash amounts equal to or less than $10,000, stating:
Those adoptions will be permissible where the seizure was conducted: (1) pursuant to a state warrant, (2) incident to arrest for an offense relevant to the forfeiture, (3) at the same time as a seizure of contraband relevant to the forfeiture, or (4) where the owner or person from whom the property is seized makes admissions regarding the criminally derived nature of the property.
The forfeiture program was highly controversial when it was discontinued in 2015, but has since been altered to better protect innocent citizens. The US Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF] in June in Honeycutt v. United States [JURIST report] that forfeiture is limited to property the defendant actually obtained as a result of the crime or “tainted property.” The court held that the Comprehensive Forfeiture Act of 1984 [text] limits property to the definitions within the act and rejected the government’s argument that the standard should be the background principle of conspiracy liability that the conspirators be responsible for each other’s foreseeable actions within the common plan.