By Eapen Thampy
While there are many implications of a potential shutdown of the federal government, one thing that won’t stop is the use of federal asset seizure and forfeiture by law enforcement. That’s because Congress doesn’t fund that activity through appropriations; that money comes out of the Asset Forfeiture Fund, controlled by the Department of Justice. Indeed, these kind of budget battles increase the use of forfeiture by law enforcement agencies looking to sustain budgets when Congress won’t pay the bills. In other words, the rights of Americans to private property may soon come under greater and sustained assault. The need for reform has never been greater.
Asset forfeiture hasn’t always been a major revenue stream for law enforcement. Indeed, that policy proposal came before Congress in 1983, when the Comprehensive Crime Control Act was under consideration. During a May 1983 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee Assistant Treasury Secretary John Walker, Jr. proposed giving forfeiture funds to the Departments of Justice and Treasury during this exchange with the late Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA):
Mr. Walker. The bill would also improve the method of payment for expenses incurred by the Government in conducting forfeiture actions by establishing forfeiture funds in the Departments of Justice and Treasury.
The establishment of these funds would allow the Government to conduct forfeiture actions with much greater dispatch while promoting overall cost savings. Better storage and maintenance of seized property would result, because Justice and Treasury would be able to balance forfeiture expenses with forfeiture proceeds.
Senator Specter [presiding]. How much do you think it likely that the Government would take in on forfeiture proceeds, Mr. Walker?