Civil Asset Forfeiture

Wyoming's Attempt to Reform Asset Forfeiture Fails

Would have required a felony drug conviction before property could be seized.


Gov. Matt Mead needs to seize himself some better curtains.

Wyoming very nearly instituted some significant reforms that would have seriously curtailed the police's ability to take citizens' things. A state Senate bill would have required a felony drug conviction before the police could seize a person's assets. The bill actually passed overwhelming in February in high enough numbers to overturn a veto from the governor.

Then Republican Gov. Matt Mead did, in fact, veto the reform, calling forfeiture a "legitimate tool against those who profit from the destruction caused by drugs." And while he acknowledged that forfeiture tools have been abused by law enforcement in other states, he insisted in his letter explaining his veto that there was only one whole case in 40 years in Wyoming where money had been wrongly taken by the state and had been returned. Therefore, he didn't see why the state should actually have to prove somebody guilty in order to take their money.

Those who follow asset forfeiture reform controversies know that often the massive bureaucracy that serves to protect this process makes it so difficult for citizens to challenge seizures that they often don't even try or just give up. Steve Klein, staff attorney for the Wyoming Liberty Group, notes that only 20 percent of property owners in asset forfeiture cases have attorneys, and because frequently the value of the property seized in each case tends to be low, it's not worth the legal fees to try to fight it. Wyoming's system is set up, like most states, to make it hard to fight asset forfeiture. So Mead assumes that the surrender by the citizenry means that the police and prosecutors were in the right.

Sadly, even though Wyoming legislators initially had a veto-proof majority, a handful of senators subsequently switched their votes last week to no, killing it. This doesn't necessarily mean the end of the matter, though. Mead said he is not entirely opposed to forfeiture reform, but apparently felt this new law was too restrictive. Legislators may come back next year with a new proposal.

(Hat tip to Techdirt)