PHOENIX, Ariz. (Jan. 20, 2016) – A bill introduced in the Arizona House would reform asset forfeiture laws to prohibit the state from taking property without a criminal conviction. The legislation also takes on federal forfeiture programs by banning prosecutors from circumventing state laws by passing cases off to the feds in most situations.
Rep. Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff) and Rep. Brenda Barton (R – Payson), along with two cosponsors, introduced House Bill 2369 (HB2369) for the 2016 legislative session. The legislation would change Arizona law by requiring a criminal conviction before prosecutors could proceed with asset forfeiture. Under current law, the state can seize assets even if a person is never found guilty of a crime.
The bill would also set more stringent limits on how agencies can spend money procured through asset forfeiture. This provision curbs the policing for profit motive inherent in the current law.
ADDRESSES FEDERAL PROGRAMS
HB2369 also closes a loophole that allows prosecutors to bypass more stringent state asset forfeiture laws by passing cases off to the federal government under its Equitable Sharing forfeiture program.
The bill would prohibit local law enforcement agencies from transferring property to federal agents for forfeiture under federal law unless the value of the property exceeds $50,000. The bill specifically stipulates that neither the seizing agency nor prosecutors can “enter into a partnership or agreement with a federal agency to seize property to avoid the requirement for a criminal conviction.”
In other words the legislation does not attempt to interfere with federally initiated forfeiture, but bans state and local police from passing off their cases to federal jurisdiction in most cases.
The inclusion of provisions barring state and local law enforcement agencies from passing off cases to the feds is particularly important. In several states with strict asset forfeiture laws, prosecutors have done just that. By placing the case under federal jurisdiction, law enforcement can bypass the need for a conviction under state law and collect up to 80 percent of the proceeds from forfeited assets via the federal Equitable Sharing Program.
Late last December the U.S. Department of Justice suspended the Equitable Sharing Program due to budget cuts. But as the Washington Post reported, the suspension won’t likely be permanent.
“In its letter, the DOJ hints that it may be able to restart payments later: ‘By deferring equitable sharing payments now, we preserve our ability to resume equitable sharing payments at a later date should the budget picture improve.’ The DOJ hopes to ‘reinstate sharing distributions as soon as practical and financially feasible,’ the letter concludes.”
Even with the program suspension in place for now, the prohibition from passing off cases remains an important provision.
California prosecutors and law enforcement agencies have regularly utilized this loophole. As the Tenth Amendment Center previously reported the federal government has inserted itself into the California’s asset forfeiture debate. The feds clearly want the policy to continue.
We can only guess. But perhaps the feds recognize paying state and local police agencies directly in cash for handling their enforcement would reveal their weakness. After all, the federal government would find it nearly impossible to prosecute its unconstitutional “War on Drugs” without state and local assistance. Asset forfeiture “equitable sharing” provides a pipeline the feds use to incentivize state and local police to serve as de facto arms of the federal government by funneling billions of dollars into their budgets.
Asset forfeiture laws incentivize “policing for profit” on one hand, and dubious state-federal partnerships on the other.
HB2369 will need to pass through the committee process before moving on to the full House for further consideration.
Take action to support this bill at this link
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