Arizona’s D- rating on the Institute of Justice’s “Policing for Profit” may finally be subject to change. The state’s House of Representatives passed House Bill 2810 on a vote of 57-2 across party lines, requiring law enforcement and prosecution to first obtain a conviction before seizing an individual’s assets.
Currently, law enforcement agencies don’t need a criminal charge to seize property in Arizona. The current law simply requires preponderance of the evidence or the possibility of the asset being used for criminal activities. All proceeds from the properties seized go directly to law enforcement agencies.
The state’s forfeiture laws are so lax that Arizona takes around $27 million in revenue per fiscal year according to Arizona Criminal Justice Commission reports. The ACJC summarily reported a revenue of around $412 million made by law enforcement from 2000-2014. This staggering amount of money was largely used to pay salaries, overtime pay, and other benefits. ACJC reports that 28 percent, or more than $62 million of the funds, was used for “administrative expenses” from that period.
Opponents of the bill argued that state forfeiture laws are instrumental in deterring organized criminal activities like drug cartels. They fear that suspects would have time to liquidate assets and sell them before a conviction can let law enforcement seize them permanently. Proponents counter that organized crime is not often hampered by civil asset forfeiture; reports show most seized assets are worth $1,000 or less.
These laws are prevalent all over the country. In civil asset forfeiture cases, property owners are more likely to opt out of getting assets back because of lack of information or because they fear an attorney will be costly. However, some property owners, such as Jermaine Sanders, choose to fight.
Sanders was charged with a misdemeanor case in North Carolina. The police found half an ounce of marijuana and $17,000 while searching his car. After law enforcement seized the drugs and money, the property owner filed a lawsuit to get his money back claiming that it had nothing to do with the drugs.
North Carolina’s forfeiture laws are the opposite of Arizona’s and law enforcement must donate the money for public schools. There is a loophole, however, in the form of the Department of Justice’s “equitable sharing program.” The police used this to send the man’s money to Customs and Border Protection and under the equitable sharing program, the federal government would take its cut and send the rest of the money back to the police. District Court Judge Christine Underwood spotted this loophole and ruled that the money be given back to the property owner.
Although North Carolina’s laws are different, this case is an example of what happens where there are no safeguards for property owners in state forfeitures. Arizona’s HB 2810 aims to rectify the status quo of forfeiture laws to protect the rights of innocent people. In the bill’s sponsor, Representative Travis Grantham’s words, “if we’re going to do something that hurts one innocent person just because it gets 10 bad ones, we’re doing it wrong, because we’re innocent until proven guilty in this country.”
Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has law enforcement taken away your cash or property using civil asset forfeiture? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and get assistance from a nationwide federal civil asset forfeiture attorney.