The Arizona House of Representatives voted down a measure which would have significantly reformed how civil asset forfeiture is legally handled in the state of Arizona. Just three years ago, reforms were made to the criminal justice system which would have been bolstered by this new bill. However, given its passage in the Arizona Senate and defeat in the Arizona House of Representatives, proponents will have to wait until the next session to get it heard and passed. It is unknown if the bill’s sponsors and supporters plan to re-introduce it at the next appropriate and available opportunity.
Civil asset forfeiture is a legal mechanism in which law enforcement – either federal, state, or local officers – can seize property which was involved in or related to the commission of a crime a person has been charged with. For example, if a person is charged with money laundering, their bank accounts can be frozen and any assets that they used in the commission of the crime, such as their computer or other means of communication. In other crimes, the assets being able to be seized by law enforcement in the name of civil asset forfeiture would necessarily be different.
For some, the surprising component of civil asset forfeiture is not that one must be proven guilty of the crime through a trial or a guilty plea, but that a charge alone is sufficient. Law enforcement can seize your car, house, funds, and other things even without a finding by any judicial arbiter that you actually committed the crime you are accused of. For some Americans, this surprising turn of events is usually only realized when they themselves are the subject of civil asset forfeiture.
In the past, Arizona law enforcement officials have claimed such broad powers in the realm of civil asset forfeiture are needed to effectively combat white collar criminals and drug kingpins who in theory have assets that total a significant amount of money or property which could be effectively deployed to stymie prosecutors and law enforcement officials by ‘outmatching’ them with resources. However, according to the Tenth Amendment Center, around three quarters, or 75% of cases, involve $10,000 or less of property under civil asset forfeiture. Once in possession of property, law enforcement is able to use the property for just about any purpose either entering it into service or selling it and keeping the profits. Unsurprisingly, this has become a revenue center for law enforcement officials and property is rarely recovered due to the time and expense involved in petitioning for its return.
While civil asset forfeiture in the Arizona legislature may be an issue tabled for another day, proponents of reform will no doubt work to help ensure that it does indeed pass. It remains to be seen if Arizona law enforcement officials will work to engage on civil asset forfeiture reform or if they will continue to stymie efforts to make it more difficult to seize assets in criminal cases.
South Florida Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has your property been seized using asset forfeiture? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of South Florida’s most experienced civil asset forfeiture attorneys.