Articles Tagged with transparency

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city-3195717_1920-300x200After a lively debate, the Metropolitan Council of Nashville, Tennessee has agreed to renew its participation in a controversial federal civil asset forfeiture program called “equitable sharing.” Opponents from both the left and the right argue the program encourages “policing for profit.”

Civil asset forfeiture is the legal procedure where law enforcement can seize an individual’s property or cash without filing criminal charges. In most states, all that is required is the suspicion that the property was involved in a crime. In a criminal case, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. In Tennessee, in cases where a vehicle is seized, however, the burden of proving innocence lies with the property owner.
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Three and a half years ago, the Council of the District of Columbia passed the Civil Asset Forfeiture Amendment Act of 2014. It was designed to protect citizens and give greater transparency to the process of civil forfeitures. Despite being mandated to publish annual reports of forfeitures in the district, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has so far failed to do so. As a result, it is impossible to see whether the reforms have had their desired effect.

On Nov. 18, 2014, the D.C. Council unanimously passed the reforms which, at the time, were touted as “a model for the states.” Key changes to civil asset forfeiture procedures included a new presumption that property owners were innocent and that the burden of proof for seizure lay with the government and not the individual. Additionally, cash amounts below $1,000 were no longer forfeitable.
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In Kansas, Governor Jeff Coyler has signed a bill into law imposing strict reporting requirements on law enforcement in cases of civil asset forfeiture. The changes bring transparency to the state’s forfeiture procedures and may lead to further reforms.

In a statement, Coyler said the new law, “will allow us to better protect Kansans’ property rights while also ensuring law enforcement have the tools they need to be effective.”

State Rep. Gail Finney (D–Wichita), who spearheaded the state’s reform, says the law represents a good first step but that more far-reaching changes will be needed. Continue reading