Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday said the Department of Justice will roll out a new policy this week that will make it easier to seize the property of drug traffickers.
"[W]e hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture, especially for drug traffickers," Sessions said in remarks to the National District Attorneys Association on Monday.
Sessions is a supporter of civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement to seize any property they allege is involved in a crime. Police can keep or sell the property, which could vary from cash to cars to real estate.
"No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime," Sessions added.
At a 2015 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on forfeiture, then-Senator Sessions said "taking and seizing and forfeiting, through a government judicial process, illegal gains from criminal enterprises is not wrong."
In the same hearing, Sessions said that "95 percent" of forfeitures involve people who have "done nothing in their lives but sell dope," and said it should be less difficult for the "government to take money from a drug dealer than it is for a businessperson to defend themselves in a lawsuit."
In March, the Justice Department's Inspector General's Office criticized the agency's asset forfeiture program, saying it lacked proper data collection and analysis and seizures often didn't advance an investigation.
"Today's report by the Inspector General makes it clear that asset forfeiture is in desperate need of reform," House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said in a statement at the time. "While asset forfeiture is a useful law enforcement tool to fight crime, the current lack of oversight and training poses dangers to Americans' civil liberties."
Currently, there are 13 states that require a conviction before forfeiture. According to the Institute for Justice, only seven states plus the District of Columbia "block law enforcement access to forfeiture proceeds." The remaining allow at least 45 percent of the value of the forfeited assets to be direct to law enforcement use.
Under former President Obama, the Justice Department said it would resume its controversial "Equitable Sharing Program." Brought back in March 2016, the program gives law enforcement the option of prosecuting some asset forfeiture cases under federal law instead of state law. Under federal forfeiture policy, police are usually able to keep up to 80 percent of the assets they seize.
A 2014 Washington Post investigation found police had seized $2.5 billion in cash alone without warrants or indictments since 2001.
A June 2017 bulletin posted by the Justice Department says several states "have enacted state forfeiture legislation that impacts state or local law enforcement agencies' ability to transfer assets to the federal government for federal forfeiture or receive shared funds" through the Equitable Sharing Program.
That kind of legislation "conflicts" with the policies of the Equitable Sharing Program, the Justice Department said, adding efforts to comply with the program are part of the "continuing efforts to compensate victims and reduce crime."