Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Is Law (We Win!!!)
Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Is Law In Ohio!
Ohio improves the law on civil asset forfeiture. HB 347, passed the legislature and signed by the Governor, received little fanfare. However, it represents a major victory for those of us who have fought to prevent this disastrous practice.
The new law will generally require a criminal conviction before seizing property under $15,000. The law also shifts the burden. When property is seized, it shifts the burden of proof from the property owner to the government. This is a huge improvement. It increases the level of proof required before seizing property.
Another important aspect of the law is that it eliminates the profit motive. Before, agencies could keep part of the booty they take from citizens. Additionally, the federal government had a slick program. The feds would give 80% of the seized assets to local agencies. This program, known as equitable sharing, served as a license to abuse the civil asset forfeiture law. Ohio law enforcement took advantage. They bypassed stricter state laws and used equitable sharing to net over $140 million between 2000 and 2013.
House Bill 347
The new law nearly closes this equitable-sharing loophole so police agencies in Ohio cannot transfer seized property valued under $100,000 to the feds. In addition to the profit motive, there are constitutional problems with civil asset forfeiture besides the obvious violation of property and due process rights.
There is a separation of powers problem. The power of the purse held by the legislature is supposed to be a check on executive branch misconduct. Legislatures are supposed to determine budgets and priorities for police agencies, but this disappears when police officials can self-fund by stealing money directly from the citizenry. There are federalism problems as well when police agencies can get a better deal from the feds and therefore bypass the sovereignty of state legislatures to regulate their own police forces.
Reform is long overdue. Often, simply having a large amount of cash is reason enough for the police to seize that money and, in the process, fatten their budgets. The reform measure is also timely given that President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, is apparently a fan of civil asset forfeiture.
I screamed, posted and spoke about the need for reform for years. Followers of DaytonDUI on Facebook know that this is an issue of great interest. Citizens, of every political stripe, screamed and fought right along side me. I have a great sense of gratification about this reform. Thank you to all who spoke out.