Friday, February 24, 2017

Arizona House passes modest forfeiture reform

Tenth Amendment Center Blog | Arizona House Unanimously Passes Bill Taking on State, Federal Asset Forfeiture - Mike Maharrey:

February 23, 2017 - "Today, the Arizona House voted 60-0 to pass a bill reforming the state’s asset forfeiture laws. The bill also takes on federal forfeiture programs by banning prosecutors from circumventing state laws by passing cases off to the feds in most situations....

"Rep. Eddie Farnsworth (R-Gilbert) introduced House Bill 2477 (HB2477) on Feb. 7. The legislation would require prosecutors to establish a higher evidentiary standard for asset forfeiture. As it stands, the law only requires a preponderance of the evidence. HB2477 would raise that, requiring police and prosecutors to provide 'clear and convincing evidence' the property was linked to a crime. While the proposed law would not require a criminal conviction before proceeding with asset forfeiture, it would take a step toward reforming Arizona’s forfeiture laws under that essential standard.

"HB2477 would also drastically increase transparency. It would establish stringent asset forfeiture reporting requirements law enforcement agencies would have to follow. Additionally, police would have to detail how seized funds are spent.

"While the reforms are modest in comparison with those under consideration in many states, law enforcement has aggressively lobbied against the bill. Activists have obtained letters sent to representatives from at least three police departments opposing the bill....  Despite the opposition, the Arizona House passed it by a 60-0 vote.....

"HB2477 also close a loophole that allows prosecutors to bypass more stringent state asset forfeiture laws by passing cases off to the federal government under its Equitable Sharing forfeiture program: 'The seizing agency or the attorney for the state may not enter into any agreement to transfer or refer seized property to a federal agency ... for the purpose of forfeiture unless the seized property includes more than one hundred thousand dollars in United States currency'....

"The inclusion of provisions barring state and local law enforcement agencies from passing off cases to the feds is particularly important.... By placing the case under federal jurisdiction, law enforcement can ... collect up to 80 percent of the proceeds from forfeited assets via the federal Equitable Sharing Program ...  a pipeline the feds use to incentivize state and local police to serve as de facto arms of the federal government by funneling billions of dollars into their budgets....

"HB2477 now moves to the Senate for further consideration."

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