The State of Ohio just dealt a vital blow to civil asset forfeiture. Gov. John Kasich recently signed a bill limiting law enforcement’s ability to permanently keep a citizen’s property without first getting a conviction. While some argue the legislation doesn’t go far enough, it is a great first step.
Civil Asset Forfeiture is a legal way for local, state and federal governments to steal private assets from innocent citizens. As I previously reported, all law enforcement needs to do is “suspect” you of criminal activity, such as drug trafficking, and they can seize your assets. Yet that’s not the worst part. Under most civil asset forfeiture laws, they can permanently keep the property even without a conviction. Thankfully, Ohio just joined California, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Wyoming in correcting that.
Instances of unconstitutional property confiscation have been occurring for decades. Most recently, Mississippi started seizing furniture. Often, the abuse originates with one sheriff, deputy or police chief. They exploit the law for their own monetary, or even personal, gain. As a result, the whole county suffers.
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Prosecutors then utilize a loophole so the city or county can keep the assets. In cases where weak evidence jeopardizes a conviction, prosecutors drop the charges and pursue the property. They sue the assets, making the owner a third party in the case. It takes the burden of proof off of the prosecutor and places it on the owner, giving the prosecutor an almost guaranteed win. Most owners forfeit their property instead of accumulating the expenses defending it. The new law eliminates this practice in Ohio.
Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of cops and departments respect citizen’s rights and do not infringe on them. For example, Hamilton County, Ohio, was already a post-forfeiture county. In other words, officers can lawfully seize assets at arrest. However, prosecutors only pursue permanent retention of those assets after a conviction. Otherwise, the property is returned to the rightful owner. Now all of Ohio will be following this procedure.
The Huffington Post reports:
“This will ensure that we’re continuing the process of forfeiture against convicted offenders ― those who are harming our communities,” said Jenna Moll, deputy director of U.S. Justice Action Network, a bipartisan organization fighting to reform civil asset forfeiture laws at the state level. “Those who are un-convicted, innocent property owners will have that benefit of the doubt.”
“The new law also closes a loophole that had allowed Ohio police departments to sidestep state civil forfeiture laws by partnering with federal agencies in a program known as equitable sharing, which allows state and local cops to pursue forfeiture through the less restrictive federal process. HB 347 holds that transfers to federal authorities can only take place when the value of the seized property exceeds $100,000.”
Some county, city and state officials fought the new legislation, arguing they need the money.
Michael Weinman, director of government affairs for the Ohio FOP, stated during the November 17, 2015, bill hearing:
“The bill would require law enforcement to return profits and instrumentalities seized during the course of often exhaustive and far reaching investigations. Anything law enforcement seizes may only be forfeited with judicial approval providing due process to those asserting ownership. These forfeited funds, and items, are utilized by law enforcement agencies in order to continue to fight criminal organizations and arrest those involved.”
However, evidence proves some departments used these funds for Margarita machines, softball uniforms, and concert tickets, among other items. In 2015, the State of Ohio confiscated $5 million under forfeiture laws. Unfortunately, Weinman fails to admit a large portion of that belonged to people never convicted of a crime. Thank you, Ohio, for correcting this injustice.
FreedomWorks is spearheading campaigns against civil asset forfeiture all across the country. Working with organizations like the NAACP and the ACLU, they are educating the public and fighting these laws. FreedomWorks commended Kasich in a statement by CEO Adam Brandon:
“There is no better way to begin a new year. Getting this bill signed into law was a long and intensive grassroots effort that involved the work of thousands of activists across the state of Ohio.”
“We thank Gov. Kasich for responding to the grassroots and signing HB 347 into law. The momentum for forfeiture reform continues to build across the country, and with many legislatures across the country about to begin, we are confident that we can replicate the success of Ohio in other states.”
To find out more, visit FreedomWorks.org or contact Jason Pye at JPye@FreedomWorks.org.
If you are not aware of your state’s civil asset forfeiture practices, contact your local authorities. Find out what your state legislation is doing to protect your rights and get involved. Convince your State Representative and Senators to correct this unconstitutional overreach.
We still have power over the government. We must speak out and let them know their dictatorial reign is over.
But that’s just my 2 cents.