Some more good news about asset forfeiture comes our way, courtesy of Lauren Krisai. It appears the Arkansas senate overwhelmingly agrees the abusive state of forfeiture it oversees cannot continue. The state senate unanimously passed an asset forfeiture reform bill that would institute a conviction requirement for seized assets, preventing law enforcement from policing for profit.
The bill would basically outlaw civil asset forfeiture in its current form, replacing it with criminal asset forfeiture. And it would prevent cops from using rinky-dink criminal charges to take property away from state residents.
There shall be no civil judgment under this subchapter and no property shall be forfeited unless the person from whom the property is seized is convicted of a felony offense that related to the property being seized and that permits the forfeiture of the property.
Unfortunately, it does contain a couple of loopholes. First, law enforcement can convert this back to civil asset forfeiture if it can show the person never responded to the civil complaint against their property. Tying this to a conviction requirement should make this tougher to exploit, seeing as a person dealing with a criminal complaint will probably be apprised of the state's desire to take their property.
Second, it still allows local law enforcement to take advantage of the federal government's equitable sharing program to bypass the new restrictions. The Tenth Amendment Center points out the state took a shot at closing this loophole with an earlier law. This is what the state's partially-closed loophole looks like:
(1) No state or local law enforcement agency may transfer any property seized by the state or local agency to any federal entity for forfeiture under federal law unless the circuit court having jurisdiction over the property enters an order, upon petition by the prosecuting attorney, authorizing the property to be transferred to the federal entity.
(2) The transfer shall not be approved unless it reasonably appears that the activity giving rise to the investigation or seizure involves more than one (1) state or the nature of the investigation or seizure would be better pursued under federal law.
Given that most seizures are performed by "drug interdiction units" or whatever, exploiting the federal loophole is as easy as claiming the property seized is part of a larger drug cartel's operations. Almost every state drug charge has a federal equivalent, so if local cops don't want to pursue a conviction, they can give the feds a cut of the seizure to bypass any state-level conviction requirements.
As the Institute for Justice notes, Arkansas has some of the country's worst forfeiture laws. And this legislative attempt to close the federal loophole has had zero negative effects on local law enforcement's ability to turn vague claims about drugs into cop shop petty cash.
Arkansas law enforcement received $27 million in DOJ equitable sharing proceeds between 2000 and 2013, which equates to roughly $1.9 million each calendar year. And these proceeds have been increasing steadily over the years, from a few hundred thousand dollars a year in the early 2000s to over $3 million in 2013.
If Arkansas legislators really want to end forfeiture abuse, they'll also need to address equitable sharing. Until that loophole undergoes further restrictions, it will be business as usual in the state. Cops would rather have 80% of something than 100% of the nothing they'll get if they feel they can't obtain a felony conviction.
Filed Under: arkansas, asset forfeiture, convictions, due process