It’s just wrong if the police can take your property when you have not been convicted of any crime, especially if the police can spend the money on themselves.
That’s why, in 2002, a broad coalition passed Bill 1404 to reform asset forfeiture. You can read all about it in my series of articles:
Unfortunately, a new bill — sponsored by Democrats, no less, who belong to a party supposed to care about civil liberties — threatens to undo the 2002 reforms.
The Colorado Springs Gazette editorializes:
The Colorado House Judiciary Committee will consider Thursday what has to be the most outrageous bill proposed in this session of the Colorado General Assembly, and perhaps in the last several years. House Bill 1238 would more than undo a law that received widespread bipartisan support in 2002, which prevents law enforcement from keeping the assets and proceeds from forfeitures, even when a suspect has been acquitted in court.
Loose translation: The new bill would allow law enforcement to take your home, your car, and your grandmother’s jewelry on the mere suspicion you committed a crime, and they could keep it regardless of an acquittal by a jury of your peers or a dismissal of the criminal case by prosecutors. It’s a bill that says, in essence, you’re guilty if accused.
Writing for the Independence Institute, Mike Krause summarizes the bill as “an invitation to misgovernment.” (Unfortunately, as Krause pointed out last month, “In 2007, the Democrat controlled legislature (with plenty of Republican support) approved HB 1275 which designates the Colorado National Guard as a law enforcement agency for the purpose of ‘sharing in the federal asset forfeiture program’ as part of the Guard’s counter drug operation in Colorado. … [The bill] blurs what should be a clear line between soldier and cop, sets a hugely dangerous precedent of military involvement in civilian law enforcement and increases the federal government’s influence into the practices and priorities of state and local agencies and takes the disastrous war on drugs to a new level in Colorado.”)
The Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition — a leader in the 2002 reforms — also issued an action alert:
WHAT HB 09-1238 WOULD DO:
1. Erodes reasonable protections for property owners by
a. repealing the requirement that someone be convicted of a criminal offense before their property can be forfeited. (in a civil forfeiture action, a property owner does not have 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination nor the right to counsel)
b. allowing for forfeiture even if the owner didn’t know that the property was used in violation of the law under the theory that he/she “reasonably should have known.”
c. repealing the requirement that the plaintiff prove that the property being forfeited was instrumental in the commission of an offense.
2. Reintroduces the profit motive to law enforcement and no longer requires forfeiture proceeds to be allocated through an accountable budgeting entity (like City Council or County Commissions) but rather allows law enforcement and prosecutors to keep a majority of the proceeds directly.
3. Removes any transparency and accountability by repealing all forfeiture reporting requirements and repeals the prohibition on transfer of forfeiture cases out of state court when local or state law enforcement were the seizing agency, with limited exceptions. …
Current law ensures that forfeiture actions are fair and that property owners have due process without undermining law enforcement’s ability to use forfeiture as a legitimate tool. Current law also brings the revenue generated from asset forfeiture into an appropriate budget process and provides accountability while removing any appearance of impropriety. HB 09-1238 repeals these fundamental principals of fairness and due process. It also creates an unacceptable profit motive for law enforcement.
What good is the Democratic Party if it doesn’t even stand up for basic civil rights? (Republican Shawn Mitchell played a pivotal role in passing the 2002 reforms, and Republican Bill Owens signed the bill.) Whether or not this bill makes it through a Democratic legislature will reveal a great deal about the soul of the Democratic Party.