Society

DOJ's Asset Forfeiture Program Should Not Continue

| by Jeff Smith

The United States Department of Justice's Asset Forfeiture Program -- while created with good intentions -- is a bad idea and should not continue to exist. 

According to The Associated Press, the program "permits law enforcement to take possession of cash and property seized during investigations." The goal of the program -- as stated by the DOJ's website -- is to make it more difficult for criminals to operate. In particular, the program was designed to be a safeguard against the activity and perpetuation of criminal organizations. 

This program was very obviously created with noble intentions. After all, making it more difficult for individuals to commit crimes is something that benefits society as a whole. However, over the years, many issues with this program have come up which make it apparent that the program is doing more harm than good. 

In fact, problems with this program have just recently been uncovered. On March 29, the AP published an article outlining the findings in a report by the DOJ's inspector general. The report listed several negative aspects of the program that need to be addressed.

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The report stated that the DOJ cannot accurately determine if seized assets actually stem from criminal organizations because it does not collect enough data. In addition, the report also said that the program does not require local officers to be educated in asset forfeiture laws when making seizures. 

"Today's report by the Inspector General makes it clear that asset forfeiture is in desperate need of reform," Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia said in a statement, according to the AP. "While asset forfeiture is a useful law enforcement tool to fight crime, the current lack of oversight and training poses dangers to Americans' civil liberties."

Goodlatte is, of course, correct in his assertion. With the way in which the DOJ currently runs the program, it is very likely that assets which are not being used in criminal activity will be seized. This puts all Americans at risk of having their possessions wrongfully taken away. 

Another glaring issue with the program is the abuse of the seized assets.

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According to the AP, local law enforcement and federal agencies are allowed to share the proceeds of seized assets in joint investigations, but the money is not allowed to be used for salaries or pay raises. 

However, back in January, the AP found that the DOJ had provided Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring's office with a PowerPoint presentation outlining how to go about using the money to do just that.

The PowerPoint suggested that the money be used to cover routine costs, which is allowed. It then suggested that the money that would have been used to meet these costs be used for salaries instead.

It quickly became clear that the office had taken advantage of this suggestion; it was found that the salaries of employees in the office had increased as much as $15,000 in a year. While the way in which the money was used may not have been technically illegal, it is apparent that it was indeed an abuse of power. 

Stories like this, when coupled with the new findings of the inspector general's report, irrefutably indicate that the Asset Forfeiture Program is broken and is beyond fixing. Therefore, it should be dissolved as soon as possible.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: AP (2), DOJ / Photo credit: Tony Webster/Flickr

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