Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Set to Advance in New Jersey

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Posted by Brooke Starr on Monday, January 21st, 2019, 2:59 PM PERMALINK

In many states, it is lawful for police to seize your property, your car, your belongings, with no conviction required, as long as they have suspicion whatever they’re taking was involved in a crime.

Civil asset forfeiture has become a major issue in recent years because of numerous stories of injustice, as citizens who are never convicted of wrongdoing struggle and fail to get their property back. Under civil asset forfeiture, you are not innocent until proven guilty.

New Jersey is not immune. Law enforcement in New Jersey need only show by preponderance of evidence, meaning based on credibility and not by amount of evidence, that the seized assets
were used in a crime to retain as much as 100 percent of forfeiture proceeds.

To make matters worse, New Jersey agencies currently have no statutory requirement to track or report any forfeitures by law enforcement or by the state attorney general’s office. This allows for zero transparency, which inevitably leads to abuse of the system.

Police face twisted incentives to police for profit, instead of for public safety, which in turn makes no one safer.

New Jersey currently has a well-deserved D- rating from the Institute for Justice for its civil forfeiture laws.

There is hope thanks to a bipartisan bill in the New Jersey Assembly (A-3442), which the Assembly Committee on Law and Public Safety has stated they will advance.

A-3442 was introduced on March 5 of 2018 by Assembly Members Jay Webber, Erik Peterson, and Angela V. McKnight, then referred to the committee. The bill aims to establish asset forfeiture reporting and transparency requirements by creating a publicly-available database of forfeitures. If passed, this database will shed more light on New Jersey law enforcement’s abuse of the system.

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