Equitable Sharing not so equitable: feds’ program now terminated

On Behalf of | Mar 3, 2015 | Federal Drug Trafficking

You might have never heard of the now defunct federal Equitable Sharing program, but that’s OK: It likely wouldn’t have benefited you in the event you became personally involved with it.

In fact, and if you had, your “participation” in the program would have been totally involuntary and you would have emerged post-program with some — or even all — of your personal assets confiscated by law enforcement officials.

Oh, and then there was this rather interesting legal twist associated with Equitable Sharing: Anything taken from you — whether cash, a car, a boat, a home or any other asset — could be seized without authorities offering any proof as to your guilt in a criminal enterprise.

That is, establishing wrongdoing was never a prerequisite under Equitable Sharing to the summary taking of an individual’s property.

And on top of that, the bedrock “proof of guilt” principle that has been a mainstay of American law for centuries was flatly turned upside down by Equitable Sharing, given that a person relieved of personal assets — again, without being indicted or ever charged with a crime — was forced to prove innocence, rather than the government proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The program was established decades ago pursuant to the so-called War on Drugs, and quickly became a powerful tool for both state and federal agencies bent on confiscating citizens’ property.

Equitable Sharing enabled state actors to summarily seize assets and then have the federal government “adopt” them. The feds then sold what was confiscated, kept a small percentage and funneled the rest back to state authorities. Those agencies in turn used the money for a wide variety of purposes.

Equitable Sharing grew increasingly unpopular over the years with legislators on both sides of the political aisle. The program was terminated earlier this year by Attorney General Eric Holder, with one national media source calling Holder’s action a “sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property.”

We invite interested readers to peruse our next blog post for some detailed insight on how confiscations worked and to see where state and federal agencies spent money that was seized.

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