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The Arizona Bill That Could Jump-Start Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

bill-oxford-OXGhu60NwxU-unsplash-300x166Arizona House Bill 2810 was recently passed by the state’s House of Representatives with a vote of 57-2. This is big news not only in Arizona but all over the country as the bill inches civil asset forfeiture away from its dark days and into fairer ground.

The state is finally seeing a ray of hope as property owners are given a chance to protect their assets from unlawful forfeitures.

In Arizona, like in most states, the statutes governing the seizure of property by law enforcement agencies were lax. Officials had carte blanche on taking property from individuals whom they believed were involved in criminal activity. The standard of proof for a forfeiture in most states is merely probable cause that the seized asset was connected to or utilized in a crime.

This condemns the property owner of an offense even before a verdict is reached in court. In these cases, the punishment comes before guilt is proven. Another burden for property owners involved in civil asset forfeiture dilemmas is they have to use their own resources to prove their property wasn’t involved in a crime. Unlike other cases, the state is not required by law to provide representation for owners in civil forfeiture cases. The owner must hire an attorney to get their property back.

The rise of law enforcement agencies forfeiting properties is primarily driven by two factors. First, police departments are incentivized to commit seizures because they get to keep the gains. This, paired with a low standard of proof for taking assets, encourages law enforcement to increase seizures.

For the owners, suing to get their property back is stressful and costly. Proving your innocence when the law seems to have you at a disadvantage from the start discourages most owners from trying to retrieve their assets. Most of the time, the property taken by the city or state is worth much less than a lawsuit. Owners opt to let the law enforcement agencies keep their assets rather than deal with the hassle and fees of pursuing legal action.

In states like North Carolina that have stricter civil asset forfeiture laws, officials still found a way to gain profit for their agencies through seizures by using the Justice Department’s “equitable sharing program.” The program stipulates that a state law enforcement body can partner with a federal agency to prevent and solve crimes. In cases of asset seizure, the state body forwards the seized asset to the federal agency for sharing. Most of the time, the federal agency will deduct a cut from the assets and give the rest back to the state body.

This is why HB 2810 is so pivotal. It holds state law enforcement agencies accountable for the just execution of asset seizures. One of the key stipulations of the law is to require a conviction before issuing a seizure. For the representatives in Arizona, this puts the civil asset forfeiture system on the right way up. Democrats and Republicans both agreed to revise the way seizures are conducted in Arizona. They hope lawmakers in other states take their cue and reform laws on property seizure in the entire country.

Nationwide Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney

Have police or federal agents seized your property using civil forfeiture? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and work with an experienced nationwide federal civil asset forfeiture attorney.

Source: 3.9.21 Time for Congress to Reform Civil Asset Forfeiture.pdf

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