Equitable sharing

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Guide to Equitable Sharing (April 2009)

Equitable sharing refers to a United States program in which the proceeds of liquidated seized assets from asset forfeiture are shared between state and federal law enforcement authorities. The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 set up the arrangement in which state and local police can share the seizures with federal agents.[1] The law allows state and local law enforcement to retain up to 80% of the proceeds from seizures made in collaboration with federal agencies and from seized assets turned over to the federal government that the federal government then elects to adopt. The program was intended to improve law enforcement by financially incentivizing collaboration between federal agencies and state and local agencies.[2] However, it has become controversial due to a perceived conflict of interest.[3] With Equitable Sharing, in cases involving civil forfeiture, state police can "skirt state restrictions on the use of funds", according to New Yorker writer Sarah Stillman, meaning that local police can evade their state's rules against forfeitures or restricting use of forfeitures by bringing in federal officers.[4] In 2010, more than $500 million was distributed through the program and over $5 billion since the program was born in 1984.[5] Between 2000 and 2013, an average of $419 million was distributed each year.[6]

The Washington Post in 2014 analyzed 400 seizures in 17 states which were examples of Equitable sharing arrangements.[7] According to the analysis, police can stop motorists, possibly under the pretext of a minor traffic infraction, and "analyze" the intentions of motorists by assessing nervousness, and request permission to search the vehicle without a warrant, hoping to find cash or other valuables possibly involved in illegal activity.[7] Of the 400 seizures studied by the Washington Post, police did not make any arrests, causing critics to speculate that the seizures were not related to real criminal activity but were symptomatic of corruption.[7]

Another 2014 report by the Washington Post found that $2.5 billion had been seized through this program since 2001 without search warrants or indictments. It further found that only a sixth of these seizures were legally challenged and the federal government responded to 41% of these challenges by returning the confiscated property.[8]  

Program limited in 2015[edit]

In January 2015 U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder introduced new restrictions on state and local participation in the program, limiting federal adoptions of seized assets.[9] In December 2015 the Department of Justice suspended some more of equitable sharing program due to budget cuts.[10] Loopholes have allowed states to continue to use federal equitable sharing.[11] In 2016 under U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch the program was reinstated after earlier budgetary issues were resolved.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ JOHN R. EMSHWILLER And GARY FIELDS (August 22, 2011). "Federal Asset Seizures Rise, Netting Innocent With Guilty". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 11, 2014. ...New York businessman James Lieto ... Federal agents seized $392,000 of his cash anyway.... CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ "Federal Equitable Sharing". Institute for Justice. Retrieved 2020-10-18.
  3. ^ "The Institute for Justice". Ij.org. 2011-10-04. Retrieved 2013-06-18. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ Sarah Stillman (August 12, 2013). "Taken: Under civil forfeiture, Americans who haven't been charged with wrongdoing can be stripped of their cash, cars, and even homes. Is that all we're losing?". The New Yorker. Retrieved October 11, 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ EMSHWILLER, JOHN R.; GARY FIELDS (August 22, 2011). "Douglas County, Neb., Reaps Millions in 'Equitable Sharing' Federal Asset-Forfeiture Program - WSJ.com". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 3 September 2011. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ "Federal Equitable Sharing". Institute for Justice. Retrieved 2020-10-18.
  7. ^ a b c Robert O’Harrow Jr., Michael Sallah, Steven Rich, Alice Crites, Alexia Campbell, Cathaleen Chen, Hoai-Tran Bui, Nagwa Abdallah, Justin Warren (September 8, 2014). "They fought the law. Who won? Many drivers faced a long ordeal in court to try to get their money back from police". Washington Post. Retrieved October 11, 2014. ...Mandrel Stuart ... would be stripped of $17,550 in cash.... CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Sallah, Michael; Jr, Robert O'Harrow; Rich, Steven; Silverman, Gabe. "Aggressive police take hundreds of millions of dollars from motorists not charged with crimes". Washington Post. Retrieved 2020-10-18.
  9. ^ "Attorney General Prohibits Federal Agency Adoptions of Assets Seized by State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies Except Where Needed to Protect Public Safety". www.justice.gov. 2015-01-16. Retrieved 2020-10-18.
  10. ^ The Justice Department just shut down a huge asset forfeiture program. By Christopher Ingraham, December 23, 2015. Washington Post.
  11. ^ Victims Of Civil Asset Forfeiture Criticize New Federal Rules. May 27, 2016. All Things Considered.
  12. ^ Ingraham, Christopher (March 28, 2016). "The feds have resumed a controversial program that lets cops take stuff and keep it". The Washington Post.

External links[edit]