Wyoming Steps Towards Supporting Civil Liberties in Asset Forfeiture Reform

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Thursday, March 3rd, 2016, 2:09 PM PERMALINK

In a unanimous vote (60-0) to support the rights of citizens, the Wyoming House of Representatives approved Senate File 46 to reform the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws, followed by a signature from Gov. Matt Mead (R) two days ago.

Civil asset forfeiture is a legal process that empowers law enforcement to seize and claim property suspected of being connected to a crime: no conviction required. Critics of asset forfeiture, of which Americans for Tax Reform is one, express concern that the practice creates incentives for police abuse while violating property rights. 

Although the law does not require the authorities to gain a criminal conviction before seizing property, it does require several steps before judges can allow property to be seized. First, it demands that law enforcement contacts the attorney general before conducting the seizure. A judicial hearing would then occur within 30 days to determine sufficient probable cause to continue with the seizure.

The law shifts the burden of proof to law enforcement to prove “clear and convincing evidence” that the property was involved in a crime in order to be seized. It also specifies if property is wrongfully forfeited, the court must cover legal fees and award damages to the property owner.

According to the Wyoming Liberty Group, total amounts seized by law enforcement in 2010 was $272,589.84. From 2008-2013, officers seized a total of $2,868,032.31 from citizens. Only a little more than $1 million of this was refunded to citizens.  

When the bill came to Gov. Matt Mead’s desk, the legislature remembered his previous veto of a 2015 bill that required a criminal conviction before property could be seized. Mead previously stated that “he didn’t know of any issues with the state’s current asset forfeiture law,” when he issued the veto. Signing this bill into law is a step towards fair laws for citizens in Wyoming in a system that previously received a “C” from the Institute for Justice’s Policing for Profit report.

Americans for Tax Reform applauds the Wyoming Legislature and Mead for supporting the civil liberties of their constituents and voting in favor of Senate File 46.

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