Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

In last week’s newsletter I used the phrase “chorus of praise” to describe the media’s response to the news that Eric Holder had signed an order “prohibiting” the obnoxious practice called “equitable sharing.” (For years the DOJ has used equitable sharing to encourage state and local police to take property from people who have never been charged with or convicted of any crime through a process called “civil asset forfeiture,” and the resultant abuse has become a national disgrace.) As analysts have begun to read the fine print in the Attorney General’s order the praise has become increasingly qualified, and some commentators have even expressed doubts about whether the order will have much of substantive impact at all. It seems to me, however, that we should remain cautiously optimistic. Civil asset forfeiture abuse is a huge problem, and the fact that head of the DOJ has finally admitted that fact and is doing something, however tentative, to address it is good news. And it is especially good news for African Americans and other minority groups, who are particularly likely to be harmed. As I noted in the newsletter, “Unlike the things Eric Holder has done that were intended to deal directly with fractious relations between African Americans and the police, stopping civil asset forfeiture abuse might actually go a long way to improve matters. The order that he signed last week will not accomplish that on its own, but it is a significant step in the right direction. By all means let us give him credit for taking it, and let us hope it represents the beginning of the end for this ‘stain on American criminal justice.’”

Jon Guze / Senior Fellow, Legal Studies

Jon Guze is the Director of Legal Studies at the John Locke Foundation. Before joining the John Locke Foundation, Jon practiced law in Durham, North Carolina for over twent...