DONALD TRUMP’S JUSTICE Department revived a federal program on Wednesday that gives state and local law enforcement more power to seize property from people who haven’t been charged, let alone convicted, of a crime.
The practice — known as “civil asset forfeiture” — became widespread as part of the drug crackdown in the 1980s, after Congress passed a law in 1984 that allowed the Department of Justice to keep the property it seized. At the time, forfeiture was billed as a way to undermine the resources of large criminal enterprises, but law enforcement saw it as a way to underwrite their budgets, and have overwhelmingly gone after people without the means to challenge the seizures in court.
The practice has become so widespread that in 2014, law enforcement officers took more property from American citizens than all home and office burglaries combined.
Civil liberties organizations have called asset forfeiture “legalized theft,” and as the practice has become more widespread, it has become deeply unpopular. According to a poll last year by the Cato Institute, 84 percent of Americans oppose property seizures from people not convicted of a crime. Most states have passed laws restricting the practice, or banning it outright.