Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder today announced the end of Equitable Sharing, the process through which state and local law enforcement agencies use the lower-standard federal law to bypass state law preventing/limiting asset forfeiture.
Equitable sharing splits the proceeds of forfeiture actions, allowing state and local agencies to keep up to 80% of the property’s value, with the rest going to the cooperating federal agency.
By using the federal venue (and its relatively low standard), local and state law enforcement agencies are able to circumvent state limits or prohibitions. The Washington Post claims Holder’s new order would, “eliminate virtually all cash and vehicle seizures made by local and state police from the program.”
This is not a complete stop for asset forfeiture. Exceptions exist for “dangerous” items (guns, ammunition and explosives); contraband (drugs and child pornography); as well as for assets secured by certain entities, like Joint Task Forces.
It is encouraging to see this administration beginning to respect individuals’ property rights and deferring to the precepts of federalism. While Holder’s actions will not wholly stop abuses from happening, this is certainly a positive step. States have regained some autonomy in setting – and limiting – their own forfeiture practices. We hope to see Congress forward legislation that would completely do away with the practice, rather than relying entirely upon the benign use of executive discretion.