February 18, 2021
By Jenna Bentley
Today, the Goldwater Institute’s reform of civil asset forfeiture in Arizona took an important step forward when its legislation (HB 2810, sponsored by Rep. Travis Grantham) passed the House Criminal Justice Reform Committee with unanimous support. This long-overdue bill states that law enforcement must obtain a conviction before the government can take your property, along with other critical safeguards.
Civil asset forfeiture allows police and prosecutors in states across the country to take, keep, and profit from someone’s property without even charging them with a crime—much less convicting them of one. Originally created to fight organized crime, civil forfeiture is now mostly used against single individuals for small amounts of money or property. Half of all currency forfeitures in Arizona are for less than $1,000. In Arizona, you do not need be charged with a crime for your property to be taken forever. Even worse, innocent owners have to prove that their property wasn’t involved in criminal activity in order to get it back, which is a difficult feat.
Fortunately, HB 2810 will help protect the rights of Arizonans by:
- Requiring law enforcement obtain a criminal conviction before forfeiting property under civil asset forfeiture—better protecting innocent owners while still allowing them to stop criminal activity;
- Shifting the burden of proof to show the property was being used in connection to illegal activity instead of having an innocent owner prove that it was not;
- Improving notice requirements by law enforcement when property is taken, such as leaving a receipt at the location of sized property if owner is not present;
- Eliminating non-judicial forfeiture and creating a post-deprivation hearing process to help ensure a person’s rights are protected; and
- Preventing the use of “roadside waivers” that coerce people into giving up their rights.
Reforms to civil asset forfeiture laws have garnered bipartisan support nationally. In a recent study, Arizona scored a D- for our poor citizen protections in this practice. HB 2810 creates additional safeguards for innocent Arizonans while still allowing law enforcement to stop those who are profiting from their criminal activities.
HB 2810 is soon headed to the House floor. Requiring a criminal conviction before forfeiture is a commonsense reform that will help protect Arizonans’ property and due process rights, while allowing law enforcement to stop those who are profiting from criminal activity.
Click here for more information about the Goldwater Institute’s work to stop civil asset forfeiture.
Jenna Bentley is the Director of Government Affairs at the Goldwater Institute.