Pubdate: Thu, 20 Jul 2017 Source: Wall Street Journal (US) Copyright: 2017 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Contact: http://www.wsj.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/487 Author: Aruna Viswanatha JUSTICE DEPARTMENT TO RESUME ASSET SEIZURES WITH POLICE Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday ordered the Justice Department to resume participating in asset seizures by local police, one of several Obama-era policies the agency has reversed. Officials said the move was part of an effort to combat recent increases in drug abuse and violent crime. The Justice Department in 2015 largely ended the property-seizure program after critics said it allowed local law-enforcement officials to take cash and other assets from individuals without proving they had done anything wrong. In a briefing with reporters, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the agency was reinstating the practice with additional safeguards. Mr. Rosenstein said this would "empower police and prosecutors" with an "important tool that can be used to combat crime" and that it would help coordination with local police and sheriffs. "They were disappointed it was taken away," Mr. Rosenstein said. The program had allowed local law enforcement to retain a greater portion of any seized assets-such as cash or other valuables-than under many state laws. Local officials have argued that ending it removed a key source of funding that helped them pay for necessary equipment and upgrades. While asset seizures were meant to target drug traffickers and other criminals, they became increasingly controversial as people complained that their money, cars and other property were seized without evidence that they had committed any crime. Conviction of a crime requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but officials could take an individual's goods after showing only that a "preponderance of the evidence" suggests they were ill-gotten. The Justice Department's 2015 decision to end the practice met with bipartisan praise, and at least one Republican lawmaker questioned Mr. Sessions' decision to reinstate it. "This is a troubling decision for the due-process protections afforded to us...as well as the growing consensus we've seen nationwide on this issue," Rep. Darrell Issa said Tuesday. Civil-liberties groups also attacked the change. "Civil asset forfeiture is tantamount to policing for profit, generating millions of dollars annually that the agencies get to keep," said Kanya Bennett, the legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. Prosecutors applauded the move. The president of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, Lawrence Leiser, who has been supportive of Mr. Sessions' changes to criminal-justice policy, said the asset-forfeiture change was "necessary to protect our citizens while depriving criminals of their ill-gotten gains." Under procedures called "adoptions," local police agencies could seize property in accordance with federal law and ask the federal government to "adopt" the forfeiture. The U.S. would then sell the assets and return about 80% of the proceeds to the state or local agency. The tools can be used, for example, to seize illicit drugs, bundles of cash, or weapons from suspected drug dealers or gang members. The Justice Department said that in reviving the program, it would enact additional safeguards. The head of the Justice Department's money-laundering and asset-recovery section, Deborah O'Connor, said in a memo that state and local officials would now need to fill out a form with additional information about the evidence justifying the seizure. "There is going to be scrutiny to make sure every adoption is going to comply with the Fourth Amendment," Mr. Rosenstein said, referring to the right to be free from unreasonable seizures. The new program also requires additional training in federal rules for local police who want to participate. Justice Department officials said they believed the change was necessary to help take criminal proceeds from drug dealers and help combat the increase in overdose deaths. Last year, an estimated 59,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. The shift is the latest Obama administration policy to be scuttled by Mr. Sessions. In May, he ended a policy that directed prosecutors to avoid charges carrying long, mandatory-minimum sentences against less serious, nonviolent drug offenders.