In July, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he was rolling back Obama-era restrictions on civil asset forfeitures, which empowered law enforcement to seize the property of people who are suspected of committing a crime — even if they’re not charged with one.
Since 2014, more than 20 states took measures to protect citizens against the practice by adding protections that extend beyond the federal level, and many saw Sessions’ move as a threat to those reforms. Now this Tuesday, House lawmakers adopted three bipartisan measures designed to reign in Sessions’ attempts to give new powers to the controversial law enforcement practice.
From The Huffington Post:
Although the DOJ’s policy change was accompanied by a handful of safeguards that officials claimed would protect against abuse, some House lawmakers were apparently not convinced. The three amendments all seek to deny federal funds to the department’s adoptive forfeiture program, effectively nullifying July’s announcement.
The three measures are attached to a larger spending bill that is expected to be approved later this week, which would send the package to the Senate.
Just spoke on the House Floor in support of my bipartisan amendment to curb abuses of civil asset forfeiture. It unanimously passed! pic.twitter.com/1L9SowGnPS
— Rep. Jamie Raskin (@RepRaskin) September 12, 2017
“Under this dubious practice, law enforcement may seize a citizen’s cash and property simply because someone suspects it of being connected to criminal activity, without convicting, indicting, arresting or even charging the property owner with having committed a crime and without proving or even alleging in court that the property is somehow connected to criminal activity,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) said in a statement.
“In order to get your property back, you have to go out and hire a lawyer, you have to go to court, and you have to prove that your property was obtained through innocent means, completely reversing the constitutional presumption of innocence that’s at the heart of due process,” he added.
Civil asset forfeiture opponents praised the passage of the amendments.
“This is a great first step toward civil forfeiture reform, but at the same time, it just puts us back to where we were two months ago,” said Robert Everett Johnson, who is an attorney for the Institute for Justice. “What Congress really needs to do is take up the cause of broader reform.”
Featured image via Gage Skidmore