The state government of Ohio reinforced the power of law enforcement to seize money, cars, and other assets suspected of being connected in any way to a crime through civil asset forfeiture laws. Legislators realized this corruption, and the state’s House of Representatives passed a bill in May (with 72 to 25 votes in favor) to reform the practice in Ohio.
The Columbus Dispatch quoted Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist when discussing the need for asset forfeiture reform:
“In criminal cases, the burden of proof rests with the prosecution to prove a defendant’s guilt. But in forfeiture cases, the property owner is put in a position in which he must prove that he obtained his property lawfully.”
H.B. 347 would limit state law enforcement’s coordination with the federal government unless the seizure is greater in value than $100,000. Doing this closes a loophole allowing local law enforcement to use federal standards when forfeiting assets. The legislation also requires a criminal conviction for the government to seize the property.
The bill would also end civil asset forfeiture for most cases were the property exceeds $25,000 in value.
In current Ohio law, officers can seize property from individuals without any criminal or formal charges. The legislature will use the bill proposed to protect Ohio property owners and reinstate due process for forfeited property.
According to the Institute for Justice, current Ohio forfeiture law has a low bar to forfeit, no conviction required, poor protections for innocent third party property owners, and close to 100% of proceeds from forfeitures streamlining back to law enforcement. IJ’s Policing for Profit report notes that forfeiture proceeds in the state averaged at $8,575,933 per year between 2010 and 2012, and it gives the state a D- for its current laws.
The legislation carries significant support from not only the legislature but Ohioans themselves. A poll from the U.S. Justice Action Network released in September 2015 showed that out of 500 registered Ohioans, 81% believed that asset forfeiture reform was essential for the state’s improvement.
Asset forfeiture is a bipartisan issue, and innocent property owners deserve to receive the due process protections guaranteed to them in the Bill of Rights. Americans for Tax Reform urges the Ohio Senate to stand with the state’s House of Representatives to reform civil asset forfeiture and protect its citizens’ rights.