Updated at 4:25 p.m. ET
Attorney General Jeff Sessions rolled back a series of Obama-era curbs on civil-asset forfeiture on Wednesday, strengthening the federal government’s power to seize cash and property from Americans without first bringing criminal charges against them.
In a statement announcing the Justice Department’s new policy directive, Sessions described civil forfeiture as a “key tool that helps law enforcement defund organized crime, take back ill-gotten gains, and prevent new crimes from being committed.” He also cast it as part of his larger push to imprint the president’s hardline stance on criminal-justice matters onto the federal government’s tactics against crime.
“President Trump has directed this Department of Justice to reduce crime in this country, and we will use every lawful tool that we have to do that,” he said at a gathering of law-enforcement officials on Wednesday. “We will continue to encourage civil-asset forfeiture whenever appropriate in order to hit organized crime in the wallet.”
The directive revives the Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program, a controversial process through which state and local police agencies can seize assets, then transfer those seizures to federal control. In doing so, local agencies can skirt some state-level regulations limiting forfeitures. Under the program, the federal government pools the funds derived from the assets and sends 80 percent of them back to the state or local department itself, sometimes evading state laws that say seized assets should go into a state’s general fund.