Idaho Governor Says Cops Matter More Than The Public Or Its Representatives, Vetoes Forfeiture Reform Bill

from the status-quo,-voters dept

The governor of Idaho doesn't care about his constituents. State legislators had successfully pushed through an asset forfeiture reform bill with overwhelming support, but Governor Butch Otter vetoed it on April 6th. (h/t Ed Krayewski at Reason)

The bill ran into some law enforcement resistance on its way to being passed. A 58-10 vote sent it to the governor's desk over the concerns of law enforcement, who apparently felt that law enforcement via asset forfeiture would just be too difficult if some form of actual due process was recognized.

While Reps. Rubel and Harris did work with some law-enforcement groups while drafting the bill and these organizations decided not to oppose it, other police organizations came out against the bill, worried it would put too many restrictions on their ability to seize drug dealers’ ill-gotten gains or the cash they could use to commit further crimes.

Apparently, those concerns were indulged by Governor Otter. His veto statement [PDF] makes the dubious assertion that Idaho law enforcement has never abused the process.

There have been no allegations that Idaho law enforcement officers or agencies are illegally or inappropriately seizing property from alleged drug traffickers. Its sponsors contend that the measure is aimed at preventing improper forfeiture of assets in the future, but there is no evidence to suggest that such a problem is imminent.

The absence of allegations is not the absence of abuse. Fighting forfeiture is prohibitively expensive and takes place in a closed judicial system that pretty much guarantees at least partial failure. Idaho isn't the worst of the worst -- not according to the Institute for Justice's grading -- but scoring a "C" is hardly an exoneration of the process. A "C" rating still stacks the deck in favor of law enforcement:

Although Idaho appears to pursue forfeitures against property owners only modestly, its civil forfeiture laws still put the property of ordinary citizens at risk. To forfeit your property, the state only needs to show that it was more likely than not that your property was used in some criminal activity—the legal standard of preponderance of the evidence. To recover seized property, an innocent owner bears the burden of proving his innocence. Moreover, law enforcement in Idaho reaps all of the rewards of civil forfeitures—they keep 100 percent of all funds and face no requirement to report data on forfeiture use and proceeds.

Otter also cited "public safety" as a reason for vetoing the reform bill. Somehow, seizing cash but letting suspected criminals go free makes us safer.

[T]here is a legitimate public safety concern associated with allowing those charged with drug crimes to keep money, cars and other civil assets that may be connected with those crimes. Not the least of these concerns is the potential for evidence to disappear or be tampered with.

Which is bullshit. If cops aren't seeking convictions, they don't need evidence. Forfeited items don't go into an evidence locker. It's converted for use by the agency seizing it -- 100% of it as allowed by Idaho law. If there's no prosecution pending, it's not evidence. It's just assets, but ones now in the hands of someone other than their original owner. The governor is deliberately muddying the waters (or he truly doesn't understand the subject matter) by conflating criminal asset forfeiture with the more popular version -- civil asset forfeiture -- which has nothing to do with the "criminal charges" Otter leads off with.

But where Governor Otter's statement really shows his disdain for everyone but a small percentage of his constituents is this part:

The fact that this bipartisan legislation was overwhelmingly approved by both the House and Senate is outweighed by compelling opposition from law enforcement and the absence of any benefit to law-abiding citizens from its enactment.

The people and their representatives don't matter, not when weighed against the apparently onerous requirement that law enforcement seek convictions when seizing property. The benefit Otter can't see is intangible: conviction requirements eliminate fishing expeditions by law enforcement officers who may be more interested in assets than convictions. That does make the public safer, but the public's top representative only represents law enforcement interests.

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  1. identicon
    coward, 12 Apr 2017 @ 2:09pm

    an argument could be made that we, as a community, are less safe due to the asset forfeiture law on the books.

    Cops (humans) could decide to let someone go if they have a good amount of money or property the cops can use to add to their budget and let the person off the hook.

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