WASHINGTON (CN) – In another reversal of Obama-era criminal justice policy, Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday said the Justice Department will take steps to make it easier for police to keep property taken from suspected criminals.
The process, known as asset forfeiture, is controversial because people can lose their property, such as cars and cash, without ever being convicted or even charged with a crime.
Critics of the practice, which include conservatives and liberals alike, say police can abuse their forfeiture powers to pad their budgets because it is difficult for people to recover their property once police take hold of it.
Police can sell or keep the property they say is connected with a crime, a tactic that is meant to hamstring large criminal groups by keeping them from using all of their resources but that can often lead to abuse.
In 2014, the New York Times reported on videos of seminars in which police departments were told to seize certain, more valuable items like flat screen televisions and luxury cars when possible.
But in a speech to the National District Attorneys Association on Monday, Sessions repeated pro-forfeiture arguments that the practice helps in the fight against criminal groups like drug traffickers. Sessions said he will issue a directive this week aimed at increasing forfeitures, including the process known as adoptive forfeitures that allows the federal government to take hold of locally-seized property.
“With care and professionalism we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures,” Sessions said in a prepared speech to the National District Attorneys Association. “No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime.”
Former Attorney General Eric Holder took steps to limit the use of asset forfeiture, including issuing a 2015 memo that prohibited federal agencies from taking control of property seized by local law enforcement.
On Twitter on Monday, Holder called Sessions’ most recent policy reversal “another extremist action.”
Sessions has already reversed a Holder policy that gave federal prosecutors greater discretion in charging suspects with drug-related offenses. Sessions did away with that approach in May, telling prosecutors they must always charge suspects with the most serious provable offense.