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Noble idea, maybe; abusive execution

February 4, 2015
Lehigh Acres Citizen

When asset forfeiture power was added to the tools law enforcement agencies have several years ago, some people applauded the move.

Then they began hearing of what can only be considered abuse of the authority. It has become clear limits are needed.

Asset forfeiture allows law enforcement agencies to seize a criminal defendant's possessions, such as cash, vehicles, houses, weapons, etc., if there is even a faint possibility they can be used in committing crimes.

Such action can cripple a drug dealer, leaving him with no way of pursuing his illegal activity.

It also can harm innocent people.

Asset forfeiture can be used against people without formal criminal indictments or even charges.

A law enforcement officer's mere suspicion illegal activity is going on can be enough for the government to take his or her possessions.

That can leave both the direct subject of forfeiture - and members of his or her family - in dire straits.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder revealed new limits on how the federal government will handle forfeiture cases, including some involving local and state authorities.

Holder promised a "comprehensive review" of the system.

That is a good start - but members of Congress should ensure Holder follows up on it.

Used with restraint, asset forfeiture can be a good tool against some criminals. But abused as it has been too many times, the authority amounts to an unconstitutional taking of private property by the government.

- Ogden Newspapers editorial



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