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. A 1984 law set up the arrangement in which state and local police can share the seizures with federal agents. The program is controversial due to a perceived conflict of interest. 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. In 2010, more than $500 million was distributed through the program and over $5 billion since the program was born in 1984.
The Washington Post in 2014 analyzed 400 seizures in 17 states which were examples of Equitable sharing arrangements. 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. 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.
Program limited in 2015
In January 2015 U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder halted some of the equitable sharing program. In December 2015 the Department of Justice suspended some more of equitable sharing due to budget cuts. Loopholes have allowed states to continue to use federal equitable sharing.
- 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....
- "The Institute for Justice". Ij.org. 2011-10-04. Retrieved 2013-06-18.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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....
- Holder limits seized-asset sharing process that split billions with local, state police. By Robert O'Harrow Jr., Sari Horwitz, and Steven Rich. January 16, 2015. Washington Post.
- Helicopters Don’t Pay for Themselves. 16 Jan 2015. By Leon Neyfakh. Slate.
- The Justice Department just shut down a huge asset forfeiture program. By Christopher Ingraham, December 23, 2015. Washington Post.
- Victims Of Civil Asset Forfeiture Criticize New Federal Rules. May 27, 2016. All Things Considered.