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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

ATF Need Not Process Drug Spoils in Court

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives now may seize and process property involved in drug offenses, according to new amendments to forfeiture regulations.

In February 2013, the Department of Justice started a pilot program allowing the ATF to process property related to drug offenses through administrative forfeiture, when weapons were also being seized. By Sept. 30, 2014, the ATF had seized and processed assets with a total value in excess of $19,300,000, according to the new rule.

The program will continue, according to the Justice Department.

ATF investigations focusing on violent crime frequently involve complex criminal organizations with multiple criminal enterprises and uncover drug-related offenses along with offenses within ATF's primary jurisdiction. Previously, the ATF generally referred the drug-related property to the Drug Enforcement Administration, which would take it through the process of administrative forfeiture.

In other cases, the ATF had to request that the local U.S. Attorney's office pursue a judicial forfeiture of the property, the rule states.

The Justice Department believes that forfeiting the assets of criminals is an essential tool in combating criminal activity that provides law enforcement with the ability to dismantle criminal organizations, deprive wrongdoers of the proceeds of their crimes, and deter crime, according to the rule.

Administrative forfeiture is expedient and effective, the Justice Department believes.

An uncontested administrative forfeiture can be done in 60-90 days for minimal cost, whereas judicial forfeiture generally can take 6 months to a year and cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. In the meantime, the government incurs additional costs if the property requires storage or maintenance until a final order of forfeiture can be obtained, the rule states.

One of the primary missions of ATF is to combat firearm-related violent crime. The nexus between drug trafficking and firearm violence is well established, the rule states. Forfeiture has the power to disrupt or dismantle criminal organizations that would continue to function if society only convicted and incarcerated specific individuals, according to the rule.

Property that can be administratively forfeited is: merchandise the importation of which is prohibited; a conveyance used to import, transport, or store a controlled substance; a monetary instrument; or other property that does not exceed $500,000 in value.

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