States Curbing Police Property Seizures

Commentary & Community

States Curbing Police Property Seizures


Did you know that law enforcement can seize your cash and your property without you being convicted of a crime in many states? This seizure of property, and the forfeiture of it to the government, has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. This attention has led legislators in some states to take steps to curtail this practice.


Asset forfeiture is when the state takes and keeps someone’s property. Criminal forfeiture comes after a criminal conviction. Civil forfeiture occurs when law enforcement seizes the property of someone who is suspected of a crime, but the property is kept by the state without a criminal conviction. Law enforcement officers say that civil forfeiture is needed to combat crimes like drug dealing, while opponents liken it to legalized theft.


The latest state to enact asset forfeiture reforms is Pennsylvania. Legislators originally considered a bill that would require a conviction before seizing property. Ultimately, however, legislators amended the bill to retain the state’s power to retain property without a criminal conviction, but did strengthen the standard for civil forfeiture. The bill also imposes a reporting requirement so the public can know the extent of asset forfeiture in that state.


Colorado also enacted civil forfeiture reform this year. That state law increased the standards the state must meet before keeping property and mandated public disclosure of forfeited items. The law also made it more difficult for the state to partner with the federal government on asset forfeiture in order to skirt state restrictions.


There are also efforts in other states, such as Texas, to reform their asset forfeiture process.


Do you support making it more difficult for state and local governments to keep the property seized by law enforcement without a criminal conviction? Or do you think that asset forfeiture reform hinders the ability of law enforcement officers to do their jobs?


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