AG Sessions revokes directive preventing unlawful civil property seizures


Logan Lowrey-Rasmussen

Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked a directive on Wednesday which prevented local law enforcement from circumventing state restrictions on seizing property of individuals suspected of a crime.

The technique was popular during the early stages of the first “war on drugs,” but later revealed many abuses ranging from citizens unfairly losing property to evidence of bribes and corruption.  

Two dozen states have enacted protections preventing law enforcement officers from seizing property unless a criminal conviction is secured.

Officers formerly circumvented protections by requesting involvement by federal agencies like the DEA. Agencies would then accept these cases and share proceeds to fund new equipment, cars, and training.

The deletion of this directive also affects adult social use and medical cannabis patients by giving law enforcement an excuse to harass law-abiding patients and unfairly seize belongings.

Under the Obama administration, Eric Holder issued the 2015 directive banned these forfeitures and reduced the amount of seizures by federal agencies.

A report by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General criticized civil asset forfeitures citing the financial incentive it gives officers and a lack of records pointing to the benefits.

“You can’t expect the cops and attorneys to be proactive in trying to root this out, partially because they benefit from it,” Trevor Burrus, a researcher in law said.

“They use it to buy police cars and things like that. The incentives aren’t there in rooting out injustice,” Burrus added.

Asset seizures have been relatively common in some states, with medical cannabis operations facing the risk of random raids and unlawful confiscation of crops.