Asset Forfeiture

Colorado Legislator Seeks to Abolish Civil Forfeiture

Exaggerations of Holder's reform make her job harder.

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Colorado General Assembly

In my syndicated column and my Forbes column last week, I worried that widespread exaggeration of Eric Holder's recently announced changes to the Justice Department's forfeiture policy could undermine the prospects for more ambitious reforms. Here is an example of how that might happen.

A Colorado legislator wants to change her state's forfeiture laws so that an owner must be convicted of a crime before his property can be confiscated. Under a bill recently introduced by state Sen. Laura Woods (R-Arvada), forfeiture would be allowed without a conviction only if it is "part of a settlement agreed upon by all parties." Such a change would essentially abolish civil forfeiture, in which an asset can be deemed "guilty" regardless of its owner's criminal culpability.

That reform would make it all the more tempting for Colorado cops to evade state law by taking advantage of the Justice Department's Equitable Sharing Program, which gives local agencies up to 80 percent of the proceeds from forfeitures completed under federal law. To discourage that sort of evasion, Woods' bill would prohibit Colorado law enforcement agencies from assisting or participating in federal forfeitures of assets worth less than $50,000 and assign any proceeds from such forfeitures to the state's general fund rather than the agencies' coffers.

So far, so good (although I would prefer an outright ban on participation in equitable sharing). But in a January 19 story describing Woods' proposed reforms, ColoradoWatchdog.org suggests that Holder's order weakens the case for the senator's bill:

On Friday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder banned federal agencies from seizing assets from local law enforcement cases without conviction unless the property is a safety concern like weapons, drugs and child pornography, a Department of Justice news release announced. It's unclear what impact that move will have on Woods' bill.

It should not have any impact at all, since Holder did nothing to change state forfeiture rules (which is beyond his power) and left most equitable sharing intact, focusing on a subcategory that accounted for less than 14 percent of the federal forfeiture loot received by the states in fiscal years 2008 through 2013. Since 2000 Colorado has received millions of dollars in equitable sharing payments, with its annual take ranging from $640,000 in fiscal year 2000 to $5.2 million in fiscal year 2006; the total for fiscal year 2013 was $3.8 million. It's not clear how much of that money came from "adoptions," the forfeiture category that Holder restricted, but millions went to federally supported task forces that are not affected by his new policy, and much of the rest may have originated from operations coordinated with or assisted by "federal authorities," another kind of equitable sharing that will continue. Furthermore, some agencies may adapt to the new policy by arranging for the sort of collaboration it requires.

In short, Holder's order does not affect the need for state reforms or for safeguards aimed at stopping cops from dodging them via equitable sharing. Implying that it does only makes the road harder for reformers like Woods.

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  1. When did republicans start hating cops?

  2. A Colorado legislator wants to change her state’s forfeiture laws so that an owner must be convicted of a crime before his property can be confiscated.

    That’s just crazy talk.

    1. she’s obviously soft on crime.

      1. She sure has white teeth though.

        1. “I was gonna have my teeth whitened, but then I said fuck that, I’ll just get a tan instead.”

    2. Crazy like the 5th.

  3. If she also tried to ban the feds from civil forfeiture in CO, my guess is that the feds would go apeshit. No free pass like legal MJ. This would be way different.

  4. Under a bill recently introduced by state Sen. Laura Woods (R-Arvada), forfeiture would be allowed without a conviction only if it is “part of a settlement agreed upon by all parties.” Such a change would essentially abolish civil forfeiture, in which an asset can be deemed “guilty” regardless of its owner’s criminal culpability.

    Not really? How much civil forfeiture comes from “We won’t prosecute you/we won’t take away your kids if you just sign over the property”?

  5. But in a January 19 story describing Woods’ proposed reforms, ColoradoWatchdog.org suggests that Holder’s order weakens the case for the senator’s bill…

    Well, how about that?

    1. Coincidence. Pure coincidence.

    2. The more I think about this the madder I get. When I first read about Holder’s action I thought maybe, just maybe, the guy had one scintilla of decency in him; that he wasn’t a complete bag of shit. I had a bit of hesitancy thinking that, but I thought there was a chance.

      I guess the optimist in me wasn’t as dead as I thought. I should have known better.

  6. “A Colorado legislator wants to change her state’s forfeiture laws so that an owner must be convicted of a crime before his property can be confiscated.”

    We already have a law stating this, Goddammit. It is called the Fifth Amendment.

    If the people sworn to defend and uphold it are instead taking a shit on it why would a second law demanding that they obey the first law make any difference? Until someone starts cutting their nuts for breaking the first law and violating their oaths nothing will change.

    Perhaps restructuring the CJ system so that prosecutors are no longer hostage to the cops might be a good place to start?

  7. Even this is pure bullshit. A conviction of a crime does not give the state to take away your property, or your constitutionally guaranteed rights. The only thing that gives them that right is if your property was STOLEN and needs to be returned to the rightful owner.

    Fuck these statists, what the fuck is this, North Korea?

    1. Actually, the Constitution does provide for it:

      “….nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…”

      Maybe a more efficient way to put a stop to state sponsored theft would be to mandate that any property seized through asset forfeiture goes to some agency of the state not related to the agencies doing the seizing. That, and the nut cutting I mentioned earlier.

      Louisiana did that regarding traffic fines and it sure put a stop to petty ticketing.

  8. How the heck can anyone that old have teeth that white?

    http://www.BestAnon.tk

  9. Asset forfeiture needs to be stopped completely….period. None of this half-pregnant bullshit of “if you’re convicted…”.

    Land of the free and home of the brave? What a freak’n laugh line that has become.

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