May 5, 2021
by Victor Riches
Today marks a great day for due process and property rights in Arizona. With Governor Doug Ducey’s signing of HB 2810, sponsored by Representative Travis Grantham, the government must now obtain a criminal conviction before taking private property under civil asset forfeiture. Prior to the passage of HB 2810, the government could (and oftentimes would) seize private property from citizens without the property owner ever being charged, let alone convicted, of a crime.
One of the most fundamental safeguards found in our Constitution is the guarantee that people are innocent until proven guilty. Given forfeiture’s threat to due process and property rights, the passage of HB 2810 protects this central constitutional right and protects innocent Arizonans against overzealous government officials. This is particularly important in low-income and minority communities, whose members are disproportionately harmed by civil forfeiture practices.
Since the cost of the court cases often exceeds the value of the seized property, a huge disincentive exists for citizens to challenge such takings. To make matters worse, forfeiture creates a system stacked dramatically in favor of the government, and against its citizens. Among other problems, property owners must prove their own innocence to get their property back. But it’s difficult to prove a negative, and it’s even more difficult when most people can’t afford to hire an attorney.
Fortunately, in an act of genuine bipartisanship, the Arizona Legislature voted nearly unanimously in support of HB 2810, with members of both parties recognizing the inherent danger of allowing the government to seize property on a whim. Considering Arizona recently received a D- for its forfeiture laws in a national survey, the need to fix such laws could not be more pressing. Requiring a criminal conviction before civil forfeiture is a commonsense reform that will help protect the property and due process rights of Arizonans while still ensuring law enforcement has the tools to stop those engaged in actual illegal activities.
HB2810, which the Goldwater Institute has been working on for several years, is a huge win for common sense and justice and will go a long way to reforming a system long acknowledged as broken. The scales are tipped against individuals in nearly all interactions with the government. This is one area where we have now brought things back into balance. We want to thank Governor Ducey, Representative Grantham, and all our coalition partners for ensuring the passage of this groundbreaking legislation.
Victor Riches is President and CEO of the Goldwater Institute.