Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) today continued his oversight of civil asset forfeiture, sending the below letter to Attorney General Eric Holder regarding federal adoption.
On October 16, Congressman Sensenbrenner sent oversight letters to the Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Acting Director of the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency requesting information on each agency’s participation in the Department of Justice’s asset forfeiture program, specifically their processes for administrative review of property seizures.
Dear Attorney General Holder:
Federal adoption occurs when a federal agency adopts a seizure from a state or local law enforcement agency and proceeds with federal forfeiture. Numerous Department of Justice (DOJ or Department) entities are authorized to adopt state and local seizures. Under the Department’s Equitable Sharing Program, DOJ will share up to 80 percent of forfeited funds with the seizing agency.
Federal adoptions have grown exponentially in recent years. From 2001 to 2013, state and local law enforcement made nearly 62,000 cash seizures without a warrant or criminal indictment through the Equitable Sharing Program. State and local authorities have received over $1.7 billion from these seizures while federal agencies have kept $800 million.
The Equitable Sharing Program is frequently criticized because it allows state and local police to ignore restrictions on civil asset forfeiture in their home states. In some cases, it gives them a direct financial incentive to do so. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Criminal Justice found that local and state police are in fact more likely to rely on the federal Equitable Sharing Program if they work in a state where civil forfeiture is more difficult or less rewarding. The disturbing conclusion is that local agency’s rely on the Equitable Sharing Program to circumvent state law.
The implications on civil liberties are dire. The right to own property is a fundamental right implicitly recognized in the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. I also believe that it is a human right.
Daniel Webster warned that “[g]ood intentions will be pleaded for every assumption of power.” With federal adoption, the federal government gives DOJ’s imprimatur to state cases and then shares proceeds of the forfeiture with the very law enforcement agency that seized the property. The conflict of interest for these state and local agencies is so stark, over a right so critical, that it screams for protections and redundancies of protections against abuse. It is therefore critical that the Department maintain clear standards regarding how its entities weigh and ultimately adopt state and local cases.
To help further understanding of the Department’s policies regarding federal adoption, please respond to the following questions by November 14, 2014.
• Please describe the federal adoption process from the time a state applies for adoption through a final decision.
• What percentage of state requests are ultimately adopted? What is the breakdown of adoptions among the Department’s law enforcement entities?
• To apply for federal adoption, a state or local agency must fill out Form Dag-71. The form requires an “immediate probable cause review” if certain specified conditions are not met. What does this review involve? Is the review always conducted prior to adoption when the specified conditions are not met?
• Seizures must be based on probable cause. What evidence does the Department require to ensure that the standard of proof has been met prior to adopting a seizure?
• Does a federal adoption represent a DOJ determination that there was probable cause to support the state or local seizure?
• What officials are authorized to approve a request for adoption?
With your response, please provide 25 samples of closed DEA and ATF case files. Please ensure that the files contain all the documents originally contained therein. Thank you for your prompt attention to this important issue.
A leading House lawmaker on Friday asked U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to provide an array of documents and data relating to the Justice Department’s role in tens of thousands of cash and property seizures made in recent years by state and local police under federal civil asset forfeiture laws.
The request by Rep. F. James “Jim” Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations, is part of an inquiry into the billions of dollars in seizures made through Justice’s Equitable Sharing Program, the federal government’s largest asset forfeiture initiative.
“While we must ensure law enforcement is properly equipped, they should not be funded by slush funds accrued by violating Americans’ civil liberties,” Sensenbrenner said in a statement Friday.
Sensenbrenner asked Holder for details about the policies governing such seizures and the standard of proof necessary before the federal government “adopts” a state or local seizure into the Equitable Sharing Program. Federal civil seizures can occur when police say they believe property is tied to crime through a preponderance of the evidence.
Sensenbrenner said he is concerned that local authorities turn to the Justice program when state civil asset forfeiture laws are stricter than the federal standards. He said he worries that police have sometimes trampled individual rights when making cash and property seizures without filing criminal charges.
“The implications on civil liberties are dire,” he said in the Oct. 24 letter. “The right to own property is a fundamental right implicitly recognized in the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. I also believe that it is a human right.”
Sensenbrenner’s request follows a Washington Post investigation that found that 61,998 cash seizures have been made on U.S. highways and elsewhere since 9/11 without search warrants or indictments through Equitable Sharing, totaling more than $2.5 billion.
Justice, Homeland Security and other federal agencies received $800 million of that total, and the rest went to states and localities.
Friday’s letter follows similar requests for documents from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In those letters, Sensenbrenner sought details about how challenges from cash and property owners are handled.
Though owners can seek to get their property back through the federal courts, the cost is often prohibitive. Sensenbrenner noted that there is an administrative process for property owners but agency decisions there are “not subject to subsequent challenge.”
The Post investigation found that only about a sixth of the seizures were challenged. But in 41 percent of the challenged cases — more than 4,000 — the government agreed to return all or part of the money. The appeals process often took more than a year and required owners of the cash to sign agreements not to sue police over the seizures.
“Given these inherent conflicts, what procedures and protections exist to ensure fair adjudications of the claims and to protect against conflicts of interest?” Sensenbrenner wrote.
He told The Post in a statement that the asset forfeiture system “raises serious Constitutional and ethical red flags. I strongly believe this deserves scrutiny and aggressive Congressional oversight.”
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Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Menomonee Falls) reminds those who are interested in attending the United States Naval, Military, Air Force, or Merchant Marine Academies that his nomination application deadline is October 15, 2014.
Eligible individuals must be legal U.S. citizens; live within Wisconsin’s Fifth Congressional District; and be at least 17 years old, but not past their 23rd birthday as of July 1, 2015. Once the deadline has passed, a member of the Congressman’s Academy Selection Committee will interview the applicant, and make nomination recommendations to the Congressman based on the applicant’s ability to meet the academic and physical standards set by the Academies.
“I will accept applications for a nomination to the U.S. Service Academies through close of business on Wednesday, October 15, 2014. Late or incomplete applications will not be accepted,” said Sensenbrenner. “I encourage students to contact the Academies they are interested in to open a candidate file, and then follow up with my office in Brookfield to make me aware of their interest in a nomination.”
Information about the nomination process can be obtained by contacting Congressman Sensenbrenner’s District Office at 120 Bishops Way, Room 154, Brookfield, WI 53005, or by phone at (262) 784-1111.Read More
Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) today introduced the ATF Elimination Act, which would dissolve the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and merge its exclusive duties into existing federal agencies. The legislation also calls for an immediate hiring freeze at the ATF and requires the Department of Justice (DOJ) to (1) eliminate and reduce duplicative functions and waste to the maximum extent possible, and (2) report to Congress with a detailed plan on how the transition will take place.
Congressman Sensenbrenner: “Washington should be responsible stewards of the American taxpayers’ money. While all too often that is not the case, this is a good government bill to streamline agency activity at DOJ—increasing effectiveness while decreasing cost. The ATF is a largely duplicative, scandal ridden agency that lacks a clear mission. It is plagued by backlogs, funding gaps, hiring challenges and a lack of leadership. For decades it has been branded by high profile failures. There is also significant overlap with other agencies. At a time when we are approaching $18 trillion in debt, waste and redundancy within our federal agencies must be addressed. Without a doubt, we can fulfill the role of the ATF more efficiently.”
The ATF Elimination Act would transfer enforcement of firearms, explosives and arson laws to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The illegal diversion of alcohol and tobacco products would be transferred to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). No later than 180 days after enactment, the DEA and FBI must submit to the Congress a plan for winding up the affairs of the ATF. Field offices and other buildings/assets of the ATF will be transferred to the FBI and it will have one year to report excess property to the General Services Administration (GSA).Read More
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F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., (Jim), represents the Fifth Congressional District of Wisconsin. The Fifth District includes parts of Milwaukee, Dodge and Waukesha counties, and all of Washington and Jefferson counties.
Jim was born in Chicago and later moved to Wisconsin with his family. He graduated from the Milwaukee Country Day School and did his undergraduate studies at Stanford University, where he majored in political science. He then earned his law degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1968.
After serving ten years in the Wisconsin State Legislature, Jim ran for a U.S. House seat and was elected in November, 1978. He has been reelected since 1980.
Jim’s current committee assignments include serving on the Committee on Science and Technology and the Committee on the Judiciary. Congressman Sensenbrenner is Chairman of the Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Oversight Subcommittee. He is also a member of the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and Internet, and the Subcommittees on Environment and Oversight.
He is the former Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and as a long-serving committee member, Jim has established a strong record on crime, intellectual property and constitutional issues. Previously, Jim also served as Chairman of the House Committee on Science, where he solidified his reputation as an independent leader on science issues, as well as oversight.
Throughout his public life, Jim has been at the forefront of efforts to preserve the sanctity of life, eliminate wasteful government spending and protect the interests of American taxpayers. He has regularly been cited by the National Taxpayers Union as one of the most fiscally responsible House Members and is well known for completing his financial disclosure forms down to the penny.
Jim is proud of his many legislative achievements that have helped improve the lives of many during his tenure in Congress.
In 1977, Jim married Cheryl Warren of Green Bay, Wisconsin, a staunch advocate for the rights of the disabled. They have two adult children, Frank and Bob. In his free time, Jim enjoys watching the Packers and reading.
Sensenbrenner and Kind to Attend White House Ceremony Honoring Wisconsin Native Lt. Alonzo Cushing http://t.co/MMJxp82Lbc
“The record shows that Rep. Sensenbrenner is a true champion of small business, supporting the votes that matter.” @NFIB