The conversation of criminal justice reform in the United States has largely centered around police brutality and prison overcrowding, which are both incredibly important issues.
But a much less sexy topic that is frequently overlooked, civil forfeiture, briefly came into the spotlight last week in Arizona.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed H.B. 2810 into law last week, requiring a criminal conviction in order for law enforcement to seize someone’s assets.
“Arizona’s Constitution provides broad protections for personal rights and property — broader so than the United States Constitution. As such, when reviewing legislation, I have a constitutional responsibility to provide a balance between those rights and ensuring that law enforcement has the tools necessary to protect our state,” Ducey said in his signing letter.
“HB 2810 provides this balance. And it ensures that law enforcement has the ability to seize property pending forfeiture or if the property is evidence of a crime. It ensures that property being taken is truly connected to criminal activity while innocent persons have the ability to get their property back,” he added.
Police have the ability to seize property with probable cause, usually with crimes such as drug trafficking or possession.
These forfeitures are supposed to be a way to make up for the cost of a crime, but can end up being a tool for profit by the government.
The bill was introduced by Republican state Rep. Travis Grantham, who argued that a conviction would create the extra barrier necessary to avoid hurting those who have not been found guilty.
“While it definitely captures some bad people, it destroys a lot of good people. And I’ve always been of the opinion that in our country, if we’re going to do something that hurts one innocent person just because it gets 10 bad ones, we’re doing it wrong,” the lawmaker said.
The bill sets boundaries to assure that law enforcement cannot simply take away large amounts of cash just because they suspect illegal activity, and requires that a decision in made within 60 days to either seize property or return it to the owner, Reason reported.
Civil forfeiture seems to have a clear path to be abused, yet few states actually have restrictions on what is considered a violation of due process.
The Grand Canyon State is taking a bold step to assure innocent people are not taken advantage of, and even increases the civil liberties of those who may later be convicted of a crime.
This is vital first step to help protect Arizonans from the abusive use of civil asset forfeiture!
This corrupt system subverts people’s constitutional rights and allows police and prosecutors to seize a person’s property simply because they suspect it was used in a crime. https://t.co/v6aipQAtXB
— ACLU of Arizona (@ACLUaz) May 6, 2021
VICTORY FOR DUE PROCESS! Today marks a great day for due process and property rights in Arizona thanks to the enactment of sweeping civil asset forfeiture reform. https://t.co/I2KpkRxDuA
— Goldwater Institute (@GoldwaterInst) May 6, 2021
The court unanimously ruled in favor of Tyson Timbs, as they clarified that the Eighth Amendment’s excessive fines clause applied to both federal and state governments. Timbs had his car seized by the state of Indiana when he was charged with transporting and selling drugs, but still had to deal with the state court following the federal decision.
It is unlikely that there will be mass protests over civil forfeiture in the near future, so it is good to see Arizona taking bipartisan action on one of the government’s most iron-fisted tactics.
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