Asset Forfeiture

Ohio Legislature Set to Pass Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform This Week

Despite objections from law enforcement, Ohio lawmakers are poised to make the Buckeye State the latest to reign in asset forfeiture.

|

Bryan Smith / ZUMA Press / Splash News/Newscom

The Ohio legislature could pass a bill this week overhauling the state's civil asset forfeiture laws that allow police to seize property without convicting the owner of a crime.

As early as Tuesday, the Ohio senate is expected to vote to join a number of other states, most recently California, that have tightened asset forfeiture laws in response to bipartisan criticism from civil liberties groups that the practice lacks due process protections for property owners and creates perverse profit incentives for police.

The Ohio bill would require a criminal conviction for forfeitures under $25,000, a provision that the bill's supporters say will keep innocent citizens and business owners from having their money seized, while still allowing police to go after large-scale drug traffickers. It would also limit coordination with federal drug task forces—a tactic that civil liberties groups say local police use to skirt stringent state rules—to cases that involve more than $100,000.

Criminal justice and civil liberties groups from both sides of the political aisle have been pressing the bill for the better part of 18 months. Earlier this year, the conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks said it drove 52,000 calls and messages from its members to the Ohio senate in favor of the bill.

The bill passed the Republican-controlled state house by a wide margin in May, but revisions to assuage concerns from law enforcement have delayed a senate vote. The new version of the bill would preserve police's ability to keep unclaimed property, as well as property from deceased owners. This week could be the last week of the legislative session in Ohio, meaning if it is not voted on or fails, the bill would have to be reintroduced next year, starting the whole process over.

On a conference call with reporters in October, Democratic Ohio state senator Cecil Thomas said "as a former law enforcement officer, I understand the the spirit of the law was to focus on illicit drug activities," but he agrees that due process protections are needed.

"Often times, I would hear from officers on the police force," Thomas said. "They'd stop an individual with $150 in his pockets. If he couldn't articulate clearly where he got the money, they'd assume it was drugs, so they'd bring in a drug dog. The dog alerts on money, the money is seized, and then it's up to individual to prove where he got the dollars. I never thought that was the proper way to deal with the situation. This particular legislation will still try to address these problems and ensure every citizen is treated fairly."

However, law enforcement groups have continued to oppose the legislation, even after the senate amended it. Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association executive director John Murphy told the Columbus Dispatch on Monday:

Ohio has a top-notch civil-forfeiture law, Murphy said, and the increases in reports of forfeiture abuses have come from other states or under federal law. He called the bill misguided.

Ohio's law "is chock-full of due-process protections," he said. "There is no evidence of substantial abuse of the forfeiture statute in Ohio."

Police chiefs expressed concern about a handful of provisions, including new limits on how forfeited proceeds can be used.

The Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm that has filed lawsuits in several states challenging asset forfeiture laws, gives Ohio's asset forfeiture laws a "D-" grade for its lax due process protections, lack of reporting requirements, and the high percentage of revenue from seizures—90 to 100 percent—that goes straight back into police and prosecutor budgets.

Advertisement

NEXT: Ask a Libertarian with Nick Gillespie, Matt Welch, Katherine Mangu-Ward

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. OT: SJWs and Islamic Totalitarians

    http://hotair.com/archives/201…..date-rape/

    1. Liberal activists are outraged that the seasonal song Baby it’s Cold Outside should be banned because, wait for it, it promotes sexual harrassment and non-consensual sex.

      Story is inaccurate.

      1. Seems like a given

    2. If the way men treat women in 50’s and 60’s movies is anywhere close to actual life I can see how we got to where we are. They really were a bunch of creeps.

      1. All the Hollywood male actors were gay, as we’re the writers so…

  2. The Ohio bill would require a criminal conviction for forfeitures under $25,000, a provision that the bill’s supporters say will keep innocent citizens and business owners from having their money seized, while still allowing police to go after large-scale drug traffickers.

    I keep wondering how officials will find a way to abuse this. If you don’t completely strip a government of a power, drive it before you and hear the lamentations of its women, they will find a way to keep doing what they were doing, but under a different label, regime, name of dept. etc.

    1. I keep wondering how officials will find a way to abuse this.

      I don’t. They’ll just throw more of your stuff into the seizure pile until they break the threshold. Or, they will inflate the value of what they are seizing until they break the threshold.

      I expect the bill will have a marginal effect, but not much of one.

      1. Good point.

        “Well, we came up with nineteen grand in cash, plus sixty bucks he had in his wallet. Perp says he was driving to an auto show to pick up a Mustang.”

        “The truck and trailer have to be worth at least six grand between them. Get it towed, it’s our truck now.”

      2. I’ve wondered exactly that. Previously, they’d merely seize the $1,500 in cash… now they value the car at $24k, so add in the $1422.18 and boom, we’ve got a $25,000 seizure.

    2. I keep wondering how officials will find a way to abuse this.

      How would this apply to property like say, an individual’s home? Say some parents are hosting a birthday party for their high-school children and a friend brings over the evil weeds. Could the police realistically do anything about the actual property or does this just apply to movable items like cars and cash?

    3. In Albuquerque, NM police have continued seizing property under the legal fiction that the 2015 law that outlaws civil forfeiture without a criminal conviction in the state does not apply to them because it did not specifically mention them.

      I expect that police in Ohio will be just as creative at justifying their robbery of citizens.

  3. Undoubtedly good news, but I predict: cops and feds just find some new legally dubious pretext for expropriating citizens without ever filing a complaint. It’s like playing wackamole with these avaricious motherfuckers.

  4. “The Ohio bill would require a criminal conviction for forfeitures under $25,000”

    Time to hit the suburbs

  5. reign?

    Bad C J.

    Bad, bad bad.

    Go to your room.

    1. Yeah, I noticed that, too, in the email that prompted me to come here…

      “Despite objections from law enforcement, Ohio lawmakers are poised to make the Buckeye State the latest to reign in asset forfeiture.”

      If you take another look at that, it’s wrong on TWO levels… one: reign instead of rein, but if you read it as
      “… make the Buckey State the latest to reign…” yep, they can wear the crown for being Numero Uno in that class!

  6. They’re the kings in asset forfeiture?

  7. law enforcement groups have continued to oppose the legislation

    Color me shocked. Thieves oppose rules on theft.

    1. Look, they have to fund those pensions somehow. It’s not like their 7.5% expected year-over-year investment returns were panning out. And if you cut into their overtime pay, they’d have to forgo that second mortgage. What are you, some kind of heartless bastard who doesn’t want America’s heroes to live comfortably at your expense?

  8. “Ohio’s law “is chock-full of due-process protections,” he said.”

    It is so “chock-full” that John Murphy could not a cite single example of the due-process protections? Did the journalist from the Columbus Dispatch not ask him to please cite a few of those protections? I swear, the state of our media is beyond repair

  9. so the copopers don’t like it even with the ammendments? Fine. Remove the ammendments and pass it.

    LE have no place disregarding our Constitution, and this practice is so dirty it cannot possibly NOT violate individual rights. If the money or goods can be SHOWN to be involved in illegal activity, then fine. Seize the money, wait for the matter to grind through the courts, and if the guy is NOT convicted, every penny of it plus interest at everage credit card rates goes back to the rightful owner of it.

    This stupidity is nearly the equal of old King George Three’s General Warrants, whereby any British government official (including any soldier) couild stop or accost anyone anywhere any time, examine what he had, and take whetever he felt he wanted to take. We started a war to end that kind of abuse. Must we start another one to end it again?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.