Ohio Legislature Passes Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill That Removes Lots Of Bad Incentives

from the fewer-residents-to-fear-for-their-property dept

Another state legislature has decided it’s time to start scaling back civil asset forfeiture. Ohio’s Senate is the latest to pass a bill targeting the worst excesses of property seizures, as Reason’s CJ Ciaramella reports.

The bill passed both the Ohio senate and house by wide margins, despite opposition from law enforcement groups. If it is signed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Ohio will join 17 other states in recent years that has overhauled their civil asset forfeiture laws in response to media investigations and reports from civil liberties groups that revealed shocking numbers of people who’ve had their cash, cars, and even homes seized.

The bill [PDF] started out stronger — forbidding the forfeiture of property without a conviction — but has been watered down a bit [changes can be seen here] in response to law enforcement opposition. What remains is a better law than most, one that removes a lot of the perverse incentives.

Under the Ohio bill prosecutors will be required to charge citizens with certain crimes in order to forfeit their property, although in some instances prosecutors may still do so without filing any charges, according to the Columbus Dispatch. It also switches the burden of proof from the defendant to the government to show why property is connected to a crime and bars civil forfeiture for amounts under $15,000.

While it’s still frustrating to see legislators automatically assume that “more $$$ = guilty $$$,” this burden shift will actually deter many questionable seizures. Law enforcement agencies may obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars through forfeiture every year, but the highest percentage of that money comes from lowball seizures that are far more questionable.

Another addition that should curb abuse is the higher bar set for federal partnership. It now sits at $100,000, meaning law enforcement won’t be able to use the federal escape valve to route around the new restrictions.

And, of course, those who benefited the most from asset forfeiture programs are still griping about the bill by delivering patently false statements.

Law enforcement organizations, such as the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, still oppose the bill, saying there are already plenty of due process protections for property owners built into the law.

When the state takes action against property, the property — which can’t represent itself — is named as the defendant. While the property’s owners are notified of the intended forfeiture, the system is designed from the ground up to deter challenges. In the case of smaller seizures, the cost of fighting for the return of the property can easily cost more than the seized property’s value. The burden of proof is placed on those whose property was seized, and the previous lack of a “basement” for burden-shifting means agencies were comfortable making dozens of small seizures, knowing very few people would attempt to fight the forfeiture.

These are good changes. They could have been better, but the law enforcement lobby — combined with politicians’ natural fear of looking “soft” on crime — tends to result in the compromises seen here. But it’s far, far better than ignoring the issue and allowing law enforcement to continue indulging in its perverted incentives.

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Comments on “Ohio Legislature Passes Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill That Removes Lots Of Bad Incentives”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Freedom to move about

“Ohio will join 17 other states in recent years that has overhauled their civil asset forfeiture laws “

What are the other 17 states? Can one drive from the right side of the country to the left side (or vice versa) without expectation of robbery under the color of law by peckerwood law enforcement agents intent upon enriching themselves or their agencies?

My second question would be, for the legislators, what is so hard about a criminal conviction before asset forfeiture? Is the non budgeted source of revenue so important to the amount of monies you allocate?

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: Freedom to move about

Convictions can literally take years sometimes. Having a criminal enterprise be able to continue to use their money for years before seizure ensures that they will move it elsewhere and claim it’s unrelated. That’s untenable and makes the seizures pointless.

What they have done, is ensure that the seizures are used for their original purpose:

* Large dollar amounts (organized crime, not $200 in some dude’s wallet)

* Charged with certain crimes (again, not charged with obstruction or resisting arrest or a traffic violation)


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Freedom to move about

Cops are trained to harass and intimidate everyone except the elite ruling class, they kiss elite ass at the drop of a hat.

Minorities are one of their favorites although women are probably at the top of the list of people at the receiving end of the abuse. Recent story of a cop pulling over women so that he could ask them out on a date. Other stories about cops abusing databases to stalk ex or present interests.

Don’t kid yourself, cops are not here to serve or protect your ass, they protect the elite from you. You are scum and are treated accordingly.

Oh yeah … it will get worse.

Anonmylous says:

How is this not theft?

Property, by definition, belongs to someone.
Property, by definition, is a thing that is owned.
Property, by definition, has no will of its own.

If property belongs to someone, taking it from its owner is a seizure, by the government, and a deprivation.
If property is a thing that is owned, taking that property is a violation of the 4th amendment rights of its owner.
If property has no will, it cannot commit a crime.

And lastly… if a “thing” without a will of its own CAN commit a crime… why hasn’t the government seized any corporations yet?

Anonymous Coward says:

crap. this is really bad news.

this forfeiture business has soured more regular americans on law enforcement and bad government than any ten other ridiculous things they are doing.

if most states follow what ohio is doing and make asset forfeiture anything like reasonable, serious change may not occur after all.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“this forfeiture business has soured more regular americans on law enforcement and bad government than any ten other ridiculous things they are doing.”

You just wait … those idiots are gearing up for some Yuge souring. If they think they are going to get any sort of support form the general public they have another thing coming.

Ninja (profile) says:

I honestly didn’t check the full thing but one way to greatly decrease the benefits of illegal seizures is to make the cash be blocked until a conviction is secured. Here you have something I will translate very roughly as ‘judicial accounts’. Supposing somebody is charging you for something they shouldn’t be and threatening with legal action, you can make a deposit in such accounts and notify the judicial system which will hear the case and decide whether the accusing part is right or wrong. This way your money will not go to the hands of the ones charging and it still receive monetary adjustments and interest rates.

So the idea would be: seized cash must be deposited in such accounts and will be returned to the owner in X days if no lawsuit is brought. The only way law enforcement can have access to the money would be if they can secure a conviction. Even then I think the money should go to the executive branch to be used as needed. This completely removes the benefit of such illegal seizures to law enforcement.

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