April 28, 2021
By Jenna Bentley
In Arizona, government can take your car, your cash, even your house and hold it forever—even when you haven’t been charged with any crime. But that’s on the verge of changing thanks to leadership from the Goldwater Institute and a broad coalition of partners—and that’s great news for justice in the Grand Canyon State.
Today, the Arizona Senate voted nearly unanimously in favor of House Bill 2810, which requires the government get a criminal conviction before taking someone’s property. Sponsored by Rep. Travis Grantham, this reform is a bipartisan-backed effort, also passing the Arizona House with near-unanimous support.
HB 2810 would address civil asset forfeiture, a practice that 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—frequently for less than $1,000. To make matters worse, it’s up to owners themselves to prove that their property wasn’t involved in the commission of a crime, which can be an extremely difficult thing to do.
In addition to requiring a conviction before taking title to private property, the bill includes other critical reforms, such as:
- Shifting the burden of proof to show the property was being used in connection to illegal activity instead of having an innocent owner prove it was not;
- Improving notice requirements by law enforcement when property is taken, such as leaving a receipt at the location of seized property if the 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 signing over their property immediately to law enforcement, oftentimes without a clear explanation that they are giving up their rights to the property.
The Goldwater Institute is a national leader in fighting civil asset forfeiture and ensuring average Americans aren’t harmed by this form of government theft. Last year, for example, Tucson handyman Kevin McBride was left stranded when police confiscated his Jeep—his primary source of income—using civil forfeiture laws and demanded $1,900 to return it. The Goldwater Institute threatened to sue the government, and Kevin got his Jeep back. And Scottsdale, Arizona, police seized $5,300 from Luis Garcia, a contractor with the Univision television network—money he had collected to support a youth soccer tournament—based on an investigation into Luis’s adult son. But Luis had never been even suspected of a crime, and after the Goldwater Institute got involved, Luis’s money was quickly returned.
Now, HB 2810 is headed to Governor Doug Ducey’s desk, and Arizona stands poised to improve its notoriously harsh civil asset forfeiture laws. And fortunately, similar efforts have been sweeping the nation, all with bipartisan support. We encourage Gov. Ducey to sign HB 2810 and give Arizonans additional protections while still allowing law enforcement to stop illegal behavior.
Click here to learn more about Goldwater Institute’s work to reform civil asset forfeiture.
Jenna Bentley is the Director of Government Affairs at the Goldwater Institute.