Posted by 14 September 2017
How much leeway should the government have to take the property of someone suspected, but not convicted, of a crime?
That is the debate surrounding civil asset seizure and forfeiture, a process where the government takes property from someone based on the belief that the property was used in a crime. Under civil forfeiture, no conviction is necessary for the government to take ownership of this property.
This practice has come under increasing fire from both liberals and conservatives. Legislators across the country have passed bills to restrict it. The Obama Administration also enacted a policy that prevents state and local law enforcement from using the federal government to bypass these restrictions.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not among those who support reform. In July, he rescinded the Obama Administration restrictions, saying “we will continue to encourage civil asset forfeiture whenever appropriate in order to hit organized crime in the wallet.”
The attorney general’s actions did not sit well with members of Congress. This week, the House of Representatives passed on a voice vote three amendments that would roll back his attempt to weaken asset forfeiture reform. Amendments offered by Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Tim Walberg (R-MI), and Justin Amash (R-MI) would limit or prohibit funding to implement the attorney general’s asset forfeiture policy.
Generally, VoteSpotter publishes links to congressional votes so individuals can see how their member of Congress voted on bills or amendments. However, in this case the votes were voice votes, which means they were not recorded. It also suggests that there was overwhelming support in the House of Representatives for these amendments. If a voice vote is close, generally opponents of a measure will call for a recorded vote.
The bill containing these amendments must still be considered by the Senate. Regardless of the final outcome, it seems clear that there is strong congressional support in both parties to restrict civil asset forfeiture.
Do you think that civil asset forfeiture is an abusive practice that needs to end? Or is it a necessary tool to fight crime?