civil forfeiture

U.S.: DOJ Suspends Asset Forfeiture Equitable Sharing; Police Take More Than Thieves

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Federal Sharing Linked to Circumvention of State Reforms

The Department of Justice on Monday released a memorandum addressed to local, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies to announce that the equitable sharing program for asset forfeiture funds has been temporarily suspended due to financial considerations.

This means that state and local law enforcement can no longer expect to receive a share of federal funds confiscated through the process of civil asset forfeiture, a method by which law enforcement can seize property and money from individuals without charging them with a crime.

Until now, the Department of Justice’s Equitable Sharing Program allowed departments to keep up to 80 percent of assets seized in joint operations, a practice scholars have shown allows local agencies to circumvent reforms in their own states. At least one estimate puts the amount of assets confiscated by law enforcement agencies in 2014 above the total amount of robberies, suggesting, according to Reason Magazine, that “Your local police or sheriff's department is more likely to take your stuff than a robber.”

New Mexico: Governor Signs Bill Outlawing Civil Asset Forfeiture, AKA 'Policing For Profit'

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New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez on Friday signed HB 560 into law, ending the practice of civil asset forfeiture in New Mexico. Civil asset forfeiture, also known as “policing for profit,” allows law enforcement officers to seize personal property without ever even charging — much less convicting — a person with a crime.

Property seized through this process often finds its way into the department’s own coffers. HB 560, introduced by NM Rep. Zachary Cook and passed unanimously in the Legislature, replaces civil asset forfeiture with criminal forfeiture, which requires a conviction of a person as a prerequisite to losing property tied to a crime.

The new law means that New Mexico now has the strongest protections against wrongful asset seizures in the country.

“This is a good day for the Bill of Rights,” said ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson. “For years police could seize people’s cash, cars, and houses without even accusing anyone of a crime. Today, we have ended this unfair practice in New Mexico and replaced it with a model that is just and constitutional.”

“With this law, New Mexico leads the nation in protecting the property rights of innocent Americans,” said Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation. “Convicted criminals will still see the fruits of their crime confiscated by the state, but innocent New Mexicans can now rest easy knowing that their property will never be seized by police without proper due process.”

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