Surprise, surprise… DOJ admits Holder policy will have little impact

DSC00260(c) 2015 Brenda Grantland  –

An article by Matt Sledge and Ryan J. Reilly, posted last night on Huffington Post, corroborates my initial reaction to Attorney General Holder’s policy order limiting Federal Adoption.  The article, Justice Department Budget Projects Some Asset Forfeiture Payments Will Rise Despite Reforms, Huffington Post, 2/5/2015, quotes Justice Department deputy assistant attorney general Jolene A. Lauria Sullens as saying Federal Adoption “wasn’t a big revenue for the asset forfeiture fund” and “it was a very small amount of cases that were adopted.”

The Justice Department estimates payments shared with city and state police will actually increase to $500 million in the current fiscal year, which began in October, from $487 million in the previous fiscal year. The department projects these “equitable sharing” payments will fall to $476 million in fiscal 2016.

This article is incorrect about one detail however.  It says “the change means the Justice Department will stop adopting cases in which federal authorities played no role in the seizure” — but the Holder policy order had a loophole for that too.  The third loophole in the order says that the order does not apply to “seizures pursuant to federal seizure warrants, obtained from federal courts to take custody of assets originally seized under state law.”

That means if the local cops decide to use their state’s forfeiture law to continue their confiscation efforts and stumble upon a really huge amount of cash  in a case, or a piece of property they seize and later discover they can’t forfeit under state law because of defenses available under state law, they can still contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office and ask them to get a federal seizure warrant to take custody of the case.  It is no harder to get a seizure warrant than a search warrant — the government just submits an affidavit and proposed seizure warrant to a federal judge and gets him or her to sign off on it.  The entire process is done ex parte (in secret inside the judge’s chambers) and the property owner and his/her attorney is not given notice of the request or the ability to object to it.

See my original blog — Attorney General Holder’s Asset Forfeiture Policy Limiting Federal Adoption Will Not Stop the Abuses — for more details about what the policy order actually says.  Also, see my February 2, 2015 blog, The truth about federal multi-jurisdictional task forces: resources for reporters writing about Holder’s policy change, for an explanation of why the Holder policy order could actually make matters worse by encouraging state and local law enforcement agencies to form more multi-jurisdictional state/federal task forces, giving the federal agencies more power over state and local law enforcement agencies.


Brenda Grantland

Brenda Grantland is a private attorney in Mill Valley California, with 30 years' experience primarily in asset forfeiture defense, as well as federal criminal appeals and victims rights and restitution. Brenda handles federal cases throughout the country, and frequently works with other attorneys or legal teams as a consultant or co-counsel.

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