Ohio Lawmakers Might Protect People from Asset Forfeiture

A bill has been introduced that would take away asset forfeiture from state police and block them from working with the Feds.

One problem with asset forfeiture is that, even when a state limits the police from stealing from people, they can still work with some federal law enforcement agency. When they do so, the Feds can perpetrate asset forfeiture and then share the plunder with the local law enforcement organization that is working with them.

Ohio might take action to eliminate it all. The Tenth Amendment center writes,

Last week, a coalition of Ohio legislators introduced a bill that 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.

Rep. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) and Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr. (R-Cincinnati), along with 17 cosponsors, introduced HB347 on Sept. 29. The legislation would completely eliminate civil asset forfeiture under state law and only allow forfeiture via criminal proceedings after prosecutors secure a criminal conviction.

The bill also almost completely 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.

According to the Institute of Justice, Ohio already has pretty good asset forfeiture laws compared to many states. It requires a higher standard than most and does not funnel forfeiture proceeds back to local law enforcement agencies. But police and prosecutors regularly circumvent these requirements by simply transferring assets to the feds. Ohio state and local law enforcement agencies raked in more than $80 million this way between 2000 and 2008. Under the proposed law, prosecutors would not be able to make cash seizures under federal law unless the value exceeded $50,000.

The idea is that this allows law enforcement to profit from a major drug bust, but ends the harassment of people for carrying cash. I’m not sure this completely restores justice, but it is better than many other options that have been used across the country.

[See also, “Asset Forfeiture: Those Who Steal for Their Jobs Learn to Steal for Themselves.”]

Ohio’s bill is a great improvement on our present legal situation. We need to work and pray for it to become law and then try to get other states to follow Ohio’s example.