The U.S. Department of Justice has announced its intention to make the asset forfeiture process easier for law enforcement. Law enforcement agencies in Virginia and across the country may, in some circumstances, seize assets from suspects in criminal investigations. There are a number of valid reasons for such actions, including their use as a tactic against strong criminal organizations, but critics say asset forfeiture is often abused by police.
From both sides of the political aisle, critics say asset seizure rules allow too much room for abuse by law enforcement and worry about the potential for padding police budgets. Many individuals whose assets have been seized find themselves with little recourse, even if they’re never charged with or convicted of a crime. The New York times reported in 2014 about videos of gatherings where police departments were told to focus on valuable possessions like luxury cars and flat-screen televisions when seizing assets.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said during a speech to the National District Attorneys Association that asset forfeiture is effective in combating drug traffickers and other criminal groups. He said he intends to increase forfeitures, including allowing for adoptive forfeitures. Adoptive forfeitures are a means by which federal agencies can take possession of property seized by local law enforcement.
In a case where asset forfeiture is sought by the government, an attorney may be able to help by pursuing relief through the court system. In criminal cases, an attorney with experience in defense law may be able to help by seeking to suppress government evidence or by establishing an alternate theory of the crime. A criminal defense attorney may be able to develop legal strategies based on deficiencies in the government’s case or attempt to negotiate a plea bargain on the client’s behalf.