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Grassley announces hearing on asset forfeiture programs

Criminal Asset ForfeitureFrom Press Release

 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa announced today that the committee will hold a hearing on the nation’s asset forfeiture laws.  The hearing will take place on Wednesday, April 15, at 10 a.m. (ET) in room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.  The hearing will also be streamed live on the committee’s website, www.judiciary.senate.gov.

Grassley supports the use of asset forfeiture to seize money from criminal organizations and return it to victims, but he has been concerned that the asset forfeiture program has become too much of a money-making business for the government.  He said the rule of law ought to be about protecting innocent people, not padding the coffers of the federal treasury.  New guidance from the Justice Department has helped, but Grassley has cautioned that loopholes have undermined efforts to improve the program’s application and legislation is still necessary.

Grassley said that the hearing will focus on law enforcement’s appropriate use of asset forfeiture to seize property associated with criminal activity and legislative reforms to that process to prevent abuses and protect the rights of innocent citizens and small business owners.

The hearing will:

·         address the perverse incentives associated with equitable sharing and federal adoption of seizures by state and local officials and recent policy changes by the Department of Justice that exclude joint task forces and investigations;

·         discuss procedural reforms to speed up the administrative process, provide more judicial oversight, and ensure that indigent claimants have access to lawyers to vindicate their rights;

·         examine the use of forfeiture in financial structuring cases and recent policy changes by the Department of Justice that purport to require evidence of significant criminal activity prior to pursuing forfeitures;  and

·         probe the Supreme Court’s recent forfeiture decision in Kaley v. United States, which eliminated a defendant’s ability to challenge the government’s case and use seized assets to retain counsel of his choice.

Grassley has been working on legislation that will protect innocent people from being caught up in the dragnet of asset forfeiture.  The bill will enhance procedural protections for individuals whose property is seized, reduce incentives for law enforcement’s excessive employment of civil asset forfeiture, and codify the IRS’ policies that prevent use of civil asset forfeiture in structuring cases where there is no other underlying crime.

The Des Moines Register and the Washington Post have highlighted abuses of the asset forfeiture program, including the case of Iowan Carol Hinders.  Hinders was a small business owner who was caught in the IRS’s asset forfeiture web without any clear evidence of an underlying crime.