Tuesday, November 22, 2016

SHOULD AN ATTORNEY GENERAL OPPOSE DUE PROCESS? While most of the mainstream media is engaged in character assassination, Reason's Jacob Sullum is giving policy reasons for why Senator Jeff Sessions is a very problematic selection as the next Attorney General of the United States: 
Sessions defends civil forfeiture as well as draconian drug sentences. As Robert Everett Johnson of the Institute for Justice pointed out last year, Sessions does not think it should be any harder than it is for the government to take property supposedly linked to drug offenses, which it can do through civil forfeiture without even charging the owner, let alone convicting him. At a hearing on "The Need to Reform Asset Forfeiture" in April 2015, Sessions said it's obvious that "criminal violators ought not to be able to keep their ill-gotten gains." He averred, without citing any evidence, that "95 percent" of people who lose money to forfeiture have "done nothing in their lives but sell dope."

Sessions, who at one point during the hearing accidentally told the truth by calling the targets of forfeiture "individuals whose money is stolen," rather alarmingly misstated the standard of proof in federal forfeiture cases, which is "preponderance of the evidence," meaning the government must show it's more likely than not that a seized asset is connected to a crime. He instead said the standard for completing a forfeiture (assuming the owner has the resources to challenge it) is "probable cause," which is what the government needs to seize the asset in the first place. Probable cause, which is also the standard for a search warrant, is substantially less demanding than preponderance of the evidence and much less demanding than proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is required for a criminal conviction. Sessions nevertheless said probable cause is "appropriate for forfeiture cases" and "it's unthinkable that we would make it harder for the government to take money from a drug dealer."

Sessions added that there is nothing wrong with letting law enforcement agencies keep the proceeds of forfeitures they pursue, a policy that has been widely criticized for warping police priorities. He faulted the Obama administration for curtailing the use of federal forfeiture law by state and local agencies, who can use it to evade state restrictions. In short, Sessions thinks civil forfeiture is fine the way it is and sees no need for reform.
Civil forfeiture without a conviction has always struck me as un-American.

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