Sessions Walks Back Obama War On Drugs Directive

By Kelly Burch 07/21/17

The elimination of the directive gives law enforcement more leeway in the matter of asset forfeiture.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made it easier for police to seize property, returning to an early practice from the War on Drugs that was curtailed under the Obama administration. 

Sessions eliminated a directive issued under the Obama administration that prevented law enforcement agencies from sidestepping state restrictions on seizing assets by bringing in federal agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration. The practice, called "adopting," was prohibited in 2015. 

“We hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture—especially for drug traffickers,” Sessions said in prepared remarks delivered Monday in Minneapolis. “With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures. No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime. Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate as is sharing with our partners.”

Sessions eliminated the directive on Wednesday, making it easier for police to seize assets even from people who have not been convicted of a crime. 

"It weakens the criminal organizations when you take their money, and it strengthens our law enforcement when we can share it together and use it to further our effort against crime," Sessions said at a meeting with police and prosecutors in Washington, according to NBC News

Sessions aimed to establish safeguards to protect innocent people, but civil rights advocates said that the measures were not enough. Even a March report from the Justice Department highlighted issues with police forfeitures. 

“We found that the Department and its investigative components do not use aggregate data to evaluate fully and oversee their seizure operations, or to determine whether seizures benefit criminal investigations or the extent to which they may pose potential risks to civil liberties,” the report read. 

The same report showed that since 2007, the DEA seized $3.2 billion in cash from people who were not charged with a crime. 

On Wednesday, Sessions downplayed this. "They're not challenging it because usually this was drug money, they know it's drug money, and they have no basis to contest the forfeitures," he said.

During his prepared remarks on Monday, Sessions called for a return to other police tactics seen as outdated. “We must encourage proven police techniques like community-based, proactive policing and ‘broken windows’ —policies that are lawful and proven to work,” he said. 

In addition, he told prosecutors to relentlessly pursue drug fraud and prescription drug abuse. 

“I would urge you to examine every case that involves an arrest of an individual illegally possessing prescription drugs. Make a condition of any plea bargain that the defendant tell where he or she got the drugs. Together, let’s get after these bad actors,” he said. “I’m convinced this is a winnable war.” 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.