Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without evidence that a crime occurred.I have written numerous times about how local law enforcement has abused Indiana's civil forfeiture law. Indiana law says that law enforcement can only keep civil forfeiture proceeds to cover the cost of the action against that particular defendant. After that determination is made by the court, the remainder is to go to the Common School Fund. Yet, in county after county, prosecutors and local law enforcement officials, aided by judges who just rubberstamp orders handed to them, routinely violate the law and pocket 100% of the proceeds. This includes Marion County, which under Republican Prosecutor Carl Brizzi and Democrat Terry Curry hasn't paid a dime to the Common School Fund in years. Rather than reign in the program, Prosecutor Curry has greatly expanded the use of civil forfeiture.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.
Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing.
The program has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them “adopted” by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds. The program allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of the adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.
“With this new policy, effective immediately, the Justice Department is taking an important step to prohibit federal agency adoptions of state and local seizures, except for public safety reasons,” Holder said in a statement.
While police can continue to make seizures under their own state laws, the federal program was easy to use and required most of the proceeds from the seizures to go to local and state police departments. Many states require seized proceeds to go into the general fund.
A Justice official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the attorney general’s motivation, said Holder “also believes that the new policy will eliminate any possibility that the adoption process might unintentionally incentivize unnecessary stops and seizures.”
Holder’s decision follows a Washington Post investigation published in September that found that police have made cash seizures worth almost $2.5 billion from motorists and others without search warrants or indictments since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
I should also mention that under the Indiana Constitution, the Common School Fund is to be made up of ALL forfeitures. Even the legislative carve out for civil forfeiture is of dubious constitutionality.