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Forfeiture Reform: 2016 State Legislation

Asset Forfeiture Reform Legislation Advances Through State Legislatures

In 2016, a number of states have successfully passed legislation impacting their civil asset forfeiture laws, including Nebraska which eliminated civil forfeiture in the state. Here’s a brief summary of legislation that has been signed into law:

  • Florida: The Florida legislature unanimously passed SB 1044. SB 1044 now requires law enforcement to make an arrest before property believed to be connected to a crime can be seized. It also requires the government to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” before property can be forfeited to the state. The coalition that pushed for reform included (but not limited to) the Florida Sheriff’s Association, Association of Police Chiefs and the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
  • Maryland: HB 336 makes several reforms to Maryland’s civil forfeiture process, including raising the burden of proof to “clear and convincing;” implementing reporting requirements; requiring a criminal conviction to forfeit an owner’s principal family home; repealing a provision allowing for money to be forfeited in related to drug possession; requiring that property owners be given a receipt when their property is seized; directing 20 percent of forfeiture proceeds from the General Fund to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to fund drug treatment and educations programs; and banning the transfer of seized cash to the federal government unless the amount seized is greater than $50,000 or if the transfer follows a federal warrant.
  • Nebraska: LB 1106 bans civil forfeiture and now requires a criminal conviction to forfeit property. It also enacts new reporting requirements for seizures and forfeiture.
  • Tennessee: SB 2144/HB 2176 requires the Department of Safety to report annually on information regarding forfeitures from the prior year.
  • Virginia: SB 457 raises the government’s burden of proof to “clear and convincing” in proving that the property is subject to forfeiture in a civil forfeiture case. HB 771/SB 423 expands reporting requirements and makes the report available to the public, as well as, adds a provision where the court may stay a forfeiture proceeding that is related to any warrant.

  • Wyoming: SF 46 makes the following reforms: (1) requires a hearing to be scheduled within 30 days of a seizure at which a judge would determine whether there is probably cause for the state to proceed with the forfeiture; (2) the Attorney General’s office is required to notify third-party owners; (3) if a judge believes that the forfeiture is disproportionate to the offense, they can stop the forfeiture or reduce the amount being taken; and (4) innocent property owners are able to obtain attorney’s fees, costs and damages from the state.
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