Civil Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Lawmakers to Cops: You Should Convict People Before You Take Their Stuff

Civil forfeiture reform failed last year. But now more legislators are on board.

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Arizona is poised to require police to actually convict somebody of a crime before seizing the defendant's property.

On Wednesday, Arizona's House of Representatives passed H.B. 2810 by a vote of 57–2. The bill mostly eliminates civil asset forfeiture, mandating that police and prosecutors convict defendants before asking a court to take their money or other property.

Civil asset forfeiture has been sold to the public as a way of separating wealthy criminals from their ill-gotten gains and using that money to help fight crime. But the reality is very different. The "civil" component of asset forfeiture allows law enforcement to force people to surrender their assets to them, often without ever having to prove they committed a crime. Sometimes they have been able to take somebody's property without even charging them. In many states the property goes directly to law enforcement agencies, creating a twisted incentive for police to pad their budgets by forcing forfeitures whenever possible, even with little or no evidence of wrongdoing.

The Institute for Justice, which tracks the use of civil asset forfeiture across the country, has given Arizona a D- for its forfeiture program, noting that because all of the proceeds go to law enforcement, it's prone to police profiteering.

"The median cash forfeiture in Arizona was $1,000," says Paul Avelar, managing attorney for the Institute for Justice's Arizona office. "When half of your cash forfeitures are less than $1,000, it is not a tool that is 'targeting' cartels. And this is such a low figure that most people will, rightly, realize the costs of fighting back are prohibitive. But lots of small forfeitures can mean big money: Agencies took in $24 million in fiscal year 2019 alone."

For the past several years, criminal justice reformers have been working in various states to change forfeiture laws. Arizona passed reforms in 2017 to require a higher evidentiary threshold for a forfeiture and to keep law enforcement officials from evading state restrictions by partnering with the Department of Justice and funneling the money through the feds (a workaround that happens regularly in many states).

But even those reforms allowed law enforcement to seize property without having to convict people of a crime. In 2020, a Republican state senator attempted to change the law to require a conviction first. His bill sailed through the state Senate than hit a bizarre snag in the House of Representatives: Democratic lawmakers opposed it, even though the targets of civil asset forfeiture abuse are often poor people and immigrants who lack the resources to fight back. Some of them said outright that police agencies needed the revenue amid the budget crisis caused by COVID-19 disruptions.

Now that states are getting more of a handle on COVID-19, lawmakers seemed more willing to consider the bill. H.B. 2810 is also sponsored by a Republican—Travis Grantham—but the Democrats are not resisting it this time. (Well, most of them aren't. Both "no" votes were Democrats: Reps. Jennifer Pawlik and Judy Schwiebert.)

The bill now goes to the Senate, which approved last year's incarnation of the legislation.

NEXT: SCOTUS Rules Against an Innocent Man Who Was Choked and Beaten by Cops, but He May Still Get His Day in Court

Civil Asset Forfeiture Arizona Police Institute for Justice

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29 responses to “Arizona Lawmakers to Cops: You Should Convict People Before You Take Their Stuff

  1. This is the kind of police defunding I can get behind.

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  2. How will the cops ever be able to afford donuts?

    1. You think a cop ever paid for a doughnut?

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        1. mine are … except when the other dude uses my name then it’s totes him

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  3. It isnt just property seizures abused in Arizona, but the dem County attorneys also abuse RICO funds and other money pits for personal use.

    https://www.kgun9.com/news/local-news/unprecedented-pc-board-strips-county-attorney-barbara-lawall-of-power

    This still isn’t far enough. Cess pool of corruption in Arizona abusing funds by all areas of government.

    1. thanks for that link. it appears that there are cracks in the armor of the cops and DA’s. let’s hope these sorts of actions expand as the oversight gets clear eyes

  4. This shows we can successfully reduce police powers without ending qualified immunity. (In fact QI actually – paradoxically – prevents police abuses. The solution to government tyranny isn’t ‘reform’ but to scale down all its services and programs gradually.)

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  5. lol who were the 2?

  6. Color me surprised = The only opposition were two Team D politicians who favor continuing to fleece poorer taxpayers who lack funds to fight back.

  7. How this was ever legal in the first place amazes me. The Constitution says you cannot be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Well, money and cars are property. But where is the due process? There is none. Additionally, by stealing your property, you are being punished but without a trial by a jury of your peers – another violation. The ‘civil’ part is intended to skirt this but it is still the government stealing your money. If you are guilty, they can wait until after the trial to confiscate your stuff. Kudos to the Republicans in Phoenix for trying to correct this gross miscarriage of justice.

    1. Well the owners of the property aren’t entitled to due process because they aren’t accused of anything. The property itself is the suspect and it is duly processed into government coffers.

    2. The precursor thugs were protective tariff customs and coast guard enforcers. The euphemism for nationalizing a ship and its cargo (over wine or plant leaves, undeclared goods etc.) is libel, and the looters are “libellants.” The Reagan-Biden-Bush dreikaiserbund dope laws of 1986 were shot full of this sort of thing, and the 1987 Crash hit just as enforceability of a mess of derivative laws, EOs and drug testing regulations made itself felt. Every major crash and depression has a prohibitionist forfeiture component libellants lie about.

    3. The entire War on Drugs is unconstitutional as well, which is half — if not more — of the reason behind forfeitures to begin with.

    4. What is “Constitution”? Do you think Congress knows about this?

    5. only by a tortured act of calling the property the offender can this be done. of course anyone with half a brain see’s right through this which is why we have it happen in DA’s offices in collusion with local cops ALL ACROSS THE COUNTRY. their self important arrogance is required to even suggest that “property” has committed a crime.

  8. Good. More of this needed.

  9. These laws to steal money should have been gone long ago, they always make any thinking person angry. These laws were written to be abused by police.

  10. “His bill sailed through the state Senate than hit a bizarre snag in the House of Representatives: Democratic lawmakers opposed it, even though the targets of civil asset forfeiture abuse are often poor people and immigrants who lack the resources to fight back. Some of them said outright that police agencies needed the revenue amid the budget crisis caused by COVID-19 disruptions.”
    Why do you find it bizarre that Democrats oppose reform Scott? They oppose it for the same reason they oppose opening schools until every member of the AFT gets a paid 6 month paid vacation, a vaccine and a new car. They don’t give a shit about poor people and immigrants and they never have. Government unions pay the bills.

  11. So the Newspeak prohibitionist euphemism for looting is “profiteering”?! Has anyone ever seen a better proof that God’s Own Prohibitionists and Positive Christian National Socialism are the same thing?

  12. If cops can seize property without even charging the property owner, let alone a conviction, then the cops are just a bunch of thugs.

    If cops are not a bunch of thugs, then property would not be seized until after the suspect was already convicted and the property was proven in a court of law to be directly related to that specific crime. Additionally any proceeds should not go to the government as it would be a conflict of interest and incentivize government to make more things criminal and to seize more property.

  13. Something weird about Arizona politics. Why are the Democrats more pro cop than the Republicans?

    1. Bidding for union votes?

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