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Federal civil asset forfeiture program limited by recent order

In our last post, we began discussing a bill currently under consideration in the House of Representatives which would shift the burden of proof in asset forfeiture cases from the property owner to the state. Other changes the bill would bring about are that seized assets would have to be returned to the owner if they are not charged with a crime after 90 days, and that officers would be prohibited from seizing money valued at $300 or less.

A final aspect of the bill is that police departments would no longer be able to receive value from seized assets by sharing them with the federal government under the Equitable Sharing Program. Up until recently, local and state police departments in Maryland were able to receive up to 80 percent of the value of forfeited assets if they shared them with the federal government. 

This program provided a way for police departments in Maryland to obtain a profit from forfeitures, since Maryland law requires that proceeds from seized assets ordinarily go to the state’s general fund or the local government. The proposal would allow this sharing, though, only in cases where there is a federal prosecution.

The Equitable Sharing Program recently went though changes of its own when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder issued an order prohibiting federal agencies from adopting property seized by state and local police. An adoption takes place when federal seizing agencies adopt in their own forfeiture proceedings seizures conducted by state or local authorities.

The prohibition applies to a variety of seizures in which federal authorities were not involved, including joint investigations in which did not actually include federal agents. The order does not, however, apply to civil seizures conducted by local and state authorities under to federal warrants.

In our next post, we’ll look at how an attorney can help property owners in asset forfeiture proceedings.

Sources:

Institute for Justice, “Asset Forfeiture Report: Maryland,” Accessed March 5, 2015.

Baltimore Post-Examiner, “Maryland law on police seizure of property in drug trade could be restricted,” Feb. 24, 2015.

Washington Post, “Justice clarifies new limits on asset forfeiture involving local, state police,” Robert O’Harrow Jr. & Steven Rich, Feb. 11, 2015. 

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