Being charged with or investigated for a criminal offense is scary and stressful. However, before a person is ever acquitted or convicted, he or she could have critical and often substantial assets retained by state or local law enforcement agencies, which can only make the problem worse for those who are accused of misconduct.
Civil asset forfeiture is a practice used by law enforcement agencies to confiscate assets, including money, which they believe to be connected to illegal activity. For example, authorities may pull someone over for a traffic offense and end up seizing any money they find on a person or in a car if they believe it is connected to drug sales. However, this apparent tool has been abused to such an extent that Attorney General Eric Holder has recently issued new policies for civil asset forfeiture to protect those who have their assets seized.
The problem with the practice of seizing assets is that agencies, including the Department of Justice, can ultimately keep the property or money taken from someone and use it for their own benefit. Critics of this practice argue that this gave enforcement officers and agencies an incentive to take property and money from people while investigating an alleged crime.
Citing the widespread issues that this practice has caused, Holder recently ordered that a new policy be established. Under his terms, federal agencies will be forbidden to keep any portion of assets seized by local and state authorities unless the person from whom the assets were confiscated is ultimately convicted.
Without taking legal action of their, people who have had cash or property seized often never get their assets back.
This new policy could potentially do two things that can benefit Chicago residents who find themselves suspected of a crime. First, it could put an end to the incentive agents have to confiscate assets in the first place by taking away the benefit it could have for law enforcement agencies. Second, it could make it easier for people to have their assets returned if they are acquitted or never charged with an offense.
Whether these intended results are achieved or not remains to be seen. In the meantime, any person who has had money or property confiscated by authorities can discuss their legal options with an attorney.
Source: DrugPolicy.org, "Attorney General Holder Ends Incentive for Law Enforcement to Seize Property," Jan. 16, 2015