In this post, we consider the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General report (OIG Report), released on March 29, 2017, evaluating the DOJ’s oversight of its cash seizure and forfeiture operations. This post is a companion to yesterday’s piece addressing the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA)’s recent report on IRS civil forfeiture for structuring violations. Read in tandem, the OIG and TIGTA Reports suggest that many forfeitures occur without conclusive information about the details of the potential underlying crime, or even whether an underlying crime was involved at all. The OIG Report concludes that more robust investigations and data collection on forfeitures would both allow DOJ monitor the effectiveness of its forfeiture efforts and increase public confidence in the forfeiture process. Improved investigations and data collection also may lead to greater enforcement opportunities by tying forfeitures to ongoing investigations or initiating new enforcement actions based on findings in forfeiture investigations.
This OIG Report is the latest in a series of recent OIG evaluations of DOJ forfeiture initiatives which respond, at least in part, to civil liberties concerns raised by forfeiture reform advocates. (See OIG’s January 2015 report on so-called “cold” consent encounters at mass transit facilities, and its September 2012 investigation of forfeiture enforcement by a local Florida police department). Both of those investigations concluded that more data analysis was needed to ensure that forfeiture operations were serving legitimate law enforcement interests.
The most recent report continues with the same theme, finding that the DOJ and its investigative components do not collect or use sufficient data to properly oversee seizure operations, or to determine whether those operations relate to or benefit criminal investigations. The OIG report focuses on three main topics: (1) the lack of data assessing the relationship between seizure and forfeiture activities and investigative outcomes; (2) in the absence of such data, the OIG itself sampled 100 DEA cash seizures that had characteristics OIG believed made them “particularly susceptible to civil liberties concerns”; and (3) the DOJ’s relationship to state and local law enforcement, through both training and equitable sharing arrangements. This post addresses topics (1) and (2). As we have previously written, equitable sharing arrangements raise their own issues of balancing individual property rights against law enforcement objectives, which are conceptually distinct from the issues addressed here. Continue Reading Civil Forfeiture Under Fire – Part II