Connecticut Latest State To Add A Conviction Requirement To Its Forfeiture Laws

from the turning-tide dept

Civil asset forfeiture continues to be curbed by legislatures around the country. Belatedly realizing the harm done to citizens by opportunistic law enforcement, lawmakers have been engaged in serious reform efforts over the past few years. Some have fallen apart on the way to approval, thanks to harmful concessions to powerful law enforcement lobbies. Other have made it through intact, potentially ending years of abuse.

Thirteen states have already added conviction requirements for forfeitures, all but eliminating the “civil” process that cuts property owners out almost completely. Connecticut has just become the fourteenth.

Late yesterday, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed HB 7146, which will require a criminal conviction to permanently confiscate property. Unlike criminal forfeiture, which targets the property owner and occurs only after a conviction, civil forfeiture sues the property itself and allows the government to permanently keep property without charging anyone with a crime.

HB 7146 will split the difference by requiring a conviction in criminal court as a prerequisite to a Connecticut state’s attorney litigating the forfeiture in civil court. The bill previously passed the House and the Senate without a single vote cast against it.

Making the law even better is the government being unable to seize anything without an accompanying arrest. From there, it must obtain a conviction to guarantee its control of the property. It must present evidence the property was used in a crime or was the proceeds of a crime, regardless of the conviction. If it can’t prove this, or the arrest fails to result in a criminal conviction, the state must return the property within 14 days. This saves citizens the trouble and expense of having to litigate the return of seized property.

On the downside, the law still allows law enforcement agencies to directly profit from forfeitures, giving them control of 70% of the proceeds with minimal oversight. This increases the risk of people having the book thrown at them in court to ensure prosecutors walk away with at least a plea deal, when there’s money/property on the line.

But it is a major improvement over the state’s original statutes, which had resulted in 2/3 of the state’s proceedings against “guilty” property being completely untied from any arrests or convictions of property owners.

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Comments on “Connecticut Latest State To Add A Conviction Requirement To Its Forfeiture Laws”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

One step closer to what should have been the default

While it’s certainly nice that another state has taken a step towards curbing the rampant abuse of robbery-at-badgepoint, the fact that it even needs to be addressed is a sign of a seriously warped situation.

‘You are not allowed to take someone’s stuff without proof that they and the property you want to take were involved in criminal acts’ should have been the baseline, the absolute minimum requirement, instead of something that actually needs to be plainly laid out via laws like this.

It’s nice that the law was passed, but the fact that it even needed to be brought up paints a rather disgusting picture of the system and how it’s been twisted and abused.

MyNameHere (profile) says:

it Won't stop

It won’t stop the seizing of assets, and in theory, as long as a case is “pending” they won’t have to move forward. It doesn’t appear that they put a time limit on holding the “evidence”.

So they can still seize huge gobs of cash that people (oddly) wander around with, under the guise of building a criminal case against them. My guess is that it might actually take longer to get money back this way.

Daydream says:

There's just one small problem; how many people are still plea-bargaining due to the lack of effective counsel?

I recall hearing somewhere (cough cough Last Week Tonight cough) that America has a major problem with funding legal aid for accused people.
Not enough funds, means not enough lawyers, means what few there are are underpaid and only have a few minutes, if not seconds, to work on each case. For obvious reasons, they recommend plea-bargaining on account that they just don’t have time to prepare a defence.

If this remains the case, asset robbery won’t be stopped; police will keep searching and looking for cash as usual, and when they find it, they’ll bring charges evidence or no evidence. The threat of legal fees and ineffective counsel will probably encourage people to plea bargain down to a suspended sentence or such, and the cops will still have a lot of money.

…Or, you know, maybe I’m just being cynical?

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: There's just one small problem; how many people are still plea-bargaining due to the lack of effective counsel?

Something like 97% of people accused of a crime never see a judge except to answer “yes, your honor” when the judge asks if they really did agree to the plea deal the prosecution just presented.

Only 3% actually go to trial in the US these days.

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