AG Eric Holder Tells Cops They Can't Steal Your Stuff Anymore

Attorney General Eric Holder is putting the kibosh on the get-rich-quick scheme used by local and state police to take your stuff for fun and profit just because they wanna. (Also, they get rich! Quick!)

The program, affectionately known as "civil asset forfeiture" or "Equitable Sharing," by which it is somehow OK for cops to steal your stuff, was laugh-so-you-don't-cry explained by John Oliver in October, and it goes a little something like this:

That’s when police seize cash, vehicles, or any other property they believe was used in a crime, regardless of whether the stuff’s owner is found guilty of a crime or not.

Typical scenario: A guy who was stopped while traveling from Michigan to California with $2400 in cash to cover the costs of his move and get settled in a new job. Pulled over in Nevada, he was asked if he had any cash in the car, at which point the cops decided he had to be on the way to California to buy drugs with all that filthy money, so they seized it.

Now Holder is saying nuh-uh, you can't actually do that. You cannot just seize people's stuff -- stuff worth approximately $3 billion since 2008 -- without evidence that those people have committed a crime. At least, not by invoking the federal Equitable Sharing program that has, until now, allowed local and state authorities to do that. They can still use their own homegrown state laws, though:

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.

There are a few exceptions to the new federal ban on stealing your stuff:

Holder’s decision allows some limited exceptions, including illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography, a small fraction of the total. This would eliminate virtually all cash and vehicle seizures made by local and state police from the program.

Ok, so getting busted with kiddie porn or explosives is still Not OK, but as for having A Car or Some Cash? That's no longer de facto evidence that you are a criminal in the eyes of the cop who pulled you over, which is how agencies have made most of their profit anyway. Ending the federal Equitable Sharing program, however, is so DUH Obvious that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle agree (hey, bipartisanship!) we should stop doing that. Of course, not everyone is pleased:

Critics of the decision say that depriving departments of the proceeds from civil asset forfeitures will hurt legitimate efforts to fight crime, drug smuggling and terrorism.

Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, said, “There is some grave concern about the possible loss of significant funding while local police and state police are being asked to do more and more each year.”

Yeah, cops aren't going to be thrilled that they can no longer steal your stuff just because. But funny thing, cops aren't super popular right now, on account of the killing of unarmed children and throwing whiny temper tantrums at funerals, so people whose first names are not "Officer" probably won't be weeping many tears that it will be harder for the po-po to "fight crime" if they can't steal your stuff anymore.

We might not like every single thing that has happened under President Obama's Czar of Justice-Doin' -- like spying on journalists, for example; uncool! -- but this is definitely A Good Thing.



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