Fight Crime by Ending Civil Asset Forfeiture
To judge by the tax-policy noise coming out of Washington, D.C., the government is eager to take even more of our stuff. But there’s one area in which our assets and possessions are becoming safer from the sticky fingers of grabby officials: civil asset forfeiture is, ever-so-gradually, being reined-in across the country. One state at a time, with the criminal justice system under greater scrutiny than ever, people’s cash, cars, and homes are winning protection against outright theft by prosecutors and cops.
“Today, the Arizona Senate voted nearly unanimously in favor of House Bill 2810, which requires the government get a criminal conviction before taking someone’s property,” the Goldwater Institute, which championed the legislation, announced April 28. “HB 2810 would address civil asset forfeiture, a practice that allows police and prosecutors in states across the country to take, keep, and profit from someone’s property without even charging them with a crime—much less convicting them of one.”
With wide, bipartisan support, the bill is likely to be signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, who has supported more moderate reforms to civil asset forfeiture in the past. That includes a 2017 measure that raised the bar for government to seize property and prevented state and local law enforcement from teaming up with federal agencies to share goodies nabbed under more-permissive federal rules.
“This is a significant victory, for Arizona to be joining the growing roster of states that have reformed their forfeiture laws,” Will Gaona, policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, commented at the time. “This bill addresses a number of significant problems with the current civil asset forfeiture scheme and moves Arizona in the right direction on property rights.”
The new bill goes even further, making asset seizures possible only after government officials win a criminal conviction.
Arizona isn’t alone in its reform efforts. Alabama’s House is considering a measure already passed by the Senate that would require law enforcement to meet a higher evidentiary standard for asset seizures and exclude forfeiture of cash totaling less than $250 and vehicles worth less than $5,000, since fighting to recover such property usually costs more than the effort is worth. Like the 2017 Arizona measure, the Alabama legislation would prevent local and state law enforcement from working with the feds to steal money and goods.
In fact, provisions restricting local cooperation with federal agencies over asset seizures reappear time and again in legislation. California included such language in its 2016 reform law, and Colorado did the same the following year.
“Unfortunately, state reforms aren’t enough because police agencies have concocted a clever workaround,” Steve
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