Civil asset forfeiture is a controversial policy in which the government seizes private property that it believes was either gained through the commission of a crime or used to commit one. However, the items being seized sometimes belong to someone who was never accused of a crime at all or people who later turn out to be completely innocent. Since a civil process is used to seize the items in question, individuals facing the loss of property do so without the benefit of the level of due process that would ordinarily be afforded a criminal defendant.
Through civil asset forfeiture, an innocent couple lost their home when their son was caught with drugs on the property. Many non-criminal motorists have had their cash seized by cops under the default suspicion that anyone carrying cash must be doing so to purchase drugs, even in obviously innocuous situations such as when driving to purchase a car. Politicos on both the left and right side of the political spectrum have characterized civil asset forfeiture as policing for profit, as police agencies often use the technique to obtain cash, cars, and other useful items, a conflict of interests that can lead to serious abuses.
The Washington Post notes that, under President Obama, civil asset forfeitures have doubled. Now, as Eric Holder steps aside as US Attorney General, his potential replacement, nominee and US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch, recently announced that her office seized over $904 million in asset forfeitures in 2013 alone.
According to a quote from The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, “As a prosecutor Ms. Lynch has also been aggressive in pursuing civil asset forfeiture, which has become a form of policing for profit. She recently announced that her office had collected more than $904 million in criminal and civil actions in fiscal 2013, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.” The editorial calls for senators to ask questions in an effort to clarify Lynch’s views on the controversial policy.
Eric Holder will step down from his position as Attorney General once a replacement has been approved by the Senate. Politico is reporting that Loretta Lynch’s confirmation vote will likely be held next year, as Senate Democrats are hesitant to take up the fight to confirm Lynch during the lame duck session.