Rand Paul: Stop feds from seizing property

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Tuesday revived legislation that would permanently limit the government’s ability to use a controversial tactic known as asset forfeiture to seize property from people who sometimes haven’t been charged with a crime.

The Obama administration has moved to end one seizure program, but Paul’s legislation goes further, stripping federal officials of much of the authority they have to seize and forfeit property.

Under the bill, which Paul has dubbed the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act, the government would not only have to prove that seized property had been used as part of illegal activity, but also that the owner had done so intentionally.

{mosads}“The federal government has made it far too easy for government agencies to take and profit from the property of those who have not been convicted of a crime,” Paul said in a statement. “The FAIR Act will ensure that government agencies no longer profit from taking the property of U.S. citizens without due process, while maintaining the ability of courts to order the surrender of proceeds of crime.”

Paul, a likely 2016 presidential contender, has made criminal justice reforms a central part of his policy agenda since being elected to the Senate. Criminal justice reforms are appealing to young and minority voters, both constituencies Paul has said he hopes to attract to the Republican Party.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) are joining Paul in sponsoring the bill. Lee is a vocal proponent of strong criminal justice reforms and King sponsored a version of Paul’s bill in the last Congress.

A companion version of Paul’s bill will be sponsored in the House by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.).

The Obama administration has taken steps to change the requirements for civil forfeiture under one program administered by the Justice Department, called “Equitable Sharing.”

The Justice Department has for years run the program, which allows local law enforcement to work with the agency to “federalize” an investigation, keep the forfeited property and split the proceeds with the Justice Department.

Under new guidelines announced two weeks ago, the federal government will only assist local agencies if seizing the property has a public safety purpose.

That program, however, only accounts for a small portion of federal asset forfeitures.

Paul’s legislation would more broadly limit the federal government’s authority to forfeit seized property while acting as a safeguard against a new presidential administration changing the policy announced by the Obama Justice Department.

Paul’s bill would also codify measures to stop states from working with the federal government on forfeiture.

State legislature have in passed laws in recent years aimed at pulling back on aggressive seizures, but law enforcement has been able to use the federal program to circumvent those measures — something Paul’s legislation is designed to end.

The bill also requires that proceeds from asset seizures be placed in the general fund of the Treasury Department — which pays for essential government services — instead of the Justice Department’s budget.

There has been significant movement across the ideological spectrum to address the forfeiture programs in recent months.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee, identified it last year as one of the areas where he believed the committee could make bipartisan progress. Grassley also joined a bipartisan letter asking the Justice Department to review its program before they announced the changes.

— This story was updated at 6:02 p.m.

Tags Angus King Chuck Grassley Mike Lee Rand Paul
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