Civil Asset Forfeiture

Time to Finally Pass Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform in AZ

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Posted by Doug Kellogg on Tuesday, March 30th, 2021, 11:17 AM PERMALINK

Last year, it was Democrats who were pressured into killing overdue civil asset forfeiture reform because the authorities 'needed the money'. As if needing the money was ever an acceptable excuse for taking the property of innocent people.

This year, Republicans are being pressured with undue fears about reform by interests who really still just care about the money.

Conservatives should stand strong, and comfortably in support of the civil asset forfeiture reform bill, HB 2810, as it is currently written. There is no need for further modifications.

This bill is the result of a multi-year process, much debate and stakeholder input, and already includes sensible exemptions to new limitations on the ability of the police to confiscate property.

The bad guys still will pay the price for their crimes. Anything seized that is evidence in a case can be kept by the authorities. People who’ve fled forfeit their property. It does not impede prosecutors in building a case, and anyone who committed a crime or let their property be involved in criminal activity loses it just like before.

Most importantly, HB 2810 protects innocent Arizonans from having their property taken. If there is no crime, it remains a dangerous standard to allow the authorities to take the property of citizens. All sides of the political spectrum can agree on that.

This strong, proven reform would put Arizona in comfortable step with 18 other states who’ve enacted similar or even stronger reforms. That includes three states that have abolished civil asset forfeiture entirely (not to be confused with criminal forfeiture). Neighboring New Mexico is one of those states.

Conservatives can rest easy defending the property rights and due process rights of their voters, and should not get stuck holding the bag defending the indefensible. It's time to give HB 2810 a vote.

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Arizona Seizing Opportunity to Protect Individual Rights, Improve Public Safety

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Posted by Doug Kellogg on Thursday, March 4th, 2021, 11:01 PM PERMALINK

This session, legislators in the Grand Canyon State are working hard to improve the state’s criminal justice system and protect the rights and property of Arizonans.

Overdue civil asset forfeiture reform, HB 2810, is on the move and through the House already, sailing through with 57 yes votes to only 2 nays. Now, it is making its way through the Senate, which passed a similar bill last year, only to see it blocked by House Democrats in a bizarre move.

Under current asset forfeiture laws, Arizonans can have their property seized by law enforcement without a crime having been committed. They can also lose their property if it was used in a criminal activity without their knowledge – authorities do not have to prove the property owner knew. Combine these issues with a difficult-to-navigate process for citizens trying to get their property back, and the deck is inappropriately stacked against Arizonans.

HB 2810 would require a conviction for property to be forfeited, so there is actually a crime that has been committed – and it makes the appeals process less onerous, and more clear.

The House also sent HB 2713 to the Senate, legislation that expands earned release credits for people in prison. Since Texas took up criminal justice reform more than a decade ago to the federal First STEP Act, conservatives have recognized that better preparing people to contribute to society upon their release is the way to go. The vast majority of those in the system will be released one day regardless, it is best for their futures, and public safety, when they are able to find work and improve their communities.

Passing HB 2713 should be a big priority for the legislature, and Arizonans. It promises to address an overly expensive prison system, while boosting public safety.

But wait, there’s more! The Arizona Senate has passed legislation, SB 1551, to end driver’s license suspension as a means to strong arm people who owe court debt.

Suspending a license for dangerous driving is more than appropriate, but suspending someone’s license because they can’t afford a fine is wrong and counterproductive.

It can cost someone their job by significantly limiting their transportation options, or make it difficult for them to look for a job in the first place. Without income, it only becomes harder for someone to pay off the debt they owe. This bad situation can get worse, as desperation may result in someone committing the offense of driving without a license, this can spark a downward cycle as a new offense is piled on top of whatever prior offense led to the initial fine and court debt.

Arizonans would be much better off if people weren’t being put in this absurd Catch 22 situation. Further, courts are not likely making much, if any additional money with this tactic.

Results from California, one of the early states to reform driver’s license suspension, show that courts are now receiving more money because people are better able to pay their fines if they can drive to work. California’s courts reported a 9% increase in collections on newly issued traffic tickets following reform.

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Time to Stop Government From Taking Innocent Peoples’ Property

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Posted by Matt Owens on Thursday, February 11th, 2021, 1:14 PM PERMALINK

Civil asset forfeiture laws allow the authorities to take your stuff without ever proving you did something wrong. They run counter to the basic assumptions and processes of our criminal justice system that are meant to protect the innocent.

Fortunately, progress in reforming these laws is being made. Three states have already decided to ban the practice entirely including North Carolina, New Mexico, and Nebraska. Since New Mexico’s ban, experience has shown that crime did not increase as detractors had predicted.

Overall, 35 states have passed at least some type of reform, including Alabama and Arkansas in 2019. 15 states currently have passed laws that require a criminal conviction as the standard in order to allow civil asset forfeiture. Also, 25 states have passed laws raising the standard for record keeping and reporting during civil asset forfeiture. 

While there’s still much do be done in the states, opportunity is knocking again with most states engaged in their 2021 legislative sessions. States like Arizona, where Democrats bizarrely killed reform last session, have the chance to get it done this year.

Reform on this issue should continue to gain urgency following the Supreme Court’s decision in Timbs v. Indiana. The court ruled that the state wrongfully forfeited a man’s SUV on the theory that it was used to move drugs. The court overturned a state court ruling, asserting it violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on excessive fines.

Although the Timbs decision was a major blow to law enforcement overreach, work still needs to be done to bring civil asset forfeiture into check on a federal level. Representative Tim Walberg from Michigan has a bill in Congress that would directly address this issue. The Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration act (FAIR act) would provide further protection to individuals who are having their assets seized by the police.

The point of the bill is not to eliminate or augment the government’s ability to seize property, but merely to ensure adequate legal protection and fairness for the individuals subject to such practice.

Former Representative Justin Amash had proposed a bill to end civil asset forfeiture entirely.

Some police departments have been abusing asset forfeiture for years, such as the case of Gerardo Serrano who had his pickup truck taken from him by police and was held for 2 years after being accused of arms smuggling for accidently leaving a hand gun magazine in his center console while attempting to cross the border to see his family.

As a matter of fact, in 2014 in total dollar value, law enforcement agencies used civil asset forfeiture to seize more from people than the total amount of the value of property stolen during burglaries. In overall numbers, the authorities were taking more stuff than bad guys at that particular moment.

Politicians who believe in property rights, due process, and individual liberty should lead on reform, just as much as those who object to the authorities taking stuff from people who are more likely to be from low-income communities.  

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AZ Dems Kill Bill That Would Have Stopped Authorities From Taking Innocent Peoples’ Stuff

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Posted by Jack Fencl on Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020, 12:15 PM PERMALINK

Civil asset forfeiture reform is overdue in many states. Currently, 19 states require a criminal conviction for forfeiture, 16 require a criminal conviction to forfeit property in civil court, and 3 have abolished forfeiture. That is tremendous progress, but leaves plenty of work to be done. 

Arizona is one state that still allows authorities to take property from innocent parties, and the process to attempt to get that property back is complex, and the window to act is short. 

Arizona lawmakers had a chance to fix this with Senate Bill 1556, which ATR strongly supported. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Eddie Farnsworth (R–Gilbert), would have required that a person be convicted of a crime before law enforcement can attempt forfeiture, with some reasonable exceptions, like if a defendant fled the state. Another change the bill would have made is that the state would no longer be able to seize the property of people who didn’t know their assets were used in the commission of a crime. In a system where people are presumed innocent until proven guilty, these changes are reasonable and long overdue. 

Despite passing the Senate unanimously earlier in the year, the House recently rejected the bill. Incredibly, it was unanimous Democratic opposition that killed the legislation. 

Why would Democrats vote to give police the power to take innocent peoples’ property? According to the Arizona Capitol Times, Rep. Kirsten Engel (D-Tucson) admitted that the status quo leads to abuses by law enforcement, but “she could not support such a change without also finding a way to ensure that counties have the money they need.” 

Basically, Democrats said that even though the system tramples on individual rights it should remain in place because it generates money for the government. In other words, they think the state should be allowed to steal from people because they budgeted around it. 

Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich falsely claimed the bill would have prevented prosecutors from putting a lien on a suspected criminal’s property. Basically, their argument was the bill would have allowed criminals to liquidate their assets before they are officially convicted of a crime, thus preventing the state from being able to seize property until it is too late. However, as Sen. Farnsworth noted, this is simply untrue. His bill would have allowed prosecutors to place liens on property, but they would have to show said property is evidence in a pending case—in other words, prosecutors would not be permitted to target assets unrelated to the crime in question. 

study by the Institute for Justice found that most forfeitures in Arizona involve small sums of money—56 percent were for less than $1,000, and only 20 percent of defendants contesting forfeiture had attorneys. This means that the system is mostly used to target individuals, not large drug cartels or big-time criminals as forfeiture’s defenders claim. 

The study also found that although the government almost always wins forfeiture cases, less than half of forfeitures are tied to a criminal conviction. Moreover, despite claims to the contrary, forfeiture is almost never used to compensate victims of crimes. In 2018, victims were compensated in four of the 1,469 forfeiture cases statewide, meaning this happens less than .3 percent of the time. 

Despite all this, and the reality that minority communities are often the target of asset forfeitures, Democrats said no, no due process, no right to your property, no innocent until proven guilty. If we need the money, injustice is fine. 

Especially in light of recent events, there is no excuse not to pass this reform next session. 

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Letter: Arizona House Should Pass Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Now

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Posted on Thursday, May 21st, 2020, 12:10 PM PERMALINK

To: Members of the Arizona House of Representatives

From: Americans for Tax Reform

Dear Representative,

On behalf of Americans for Tax Reform and our supporters across Arizona, I urge you to support and approve Senate Bill 1556. This legislation would enact needed reforms to the state’s civil asset forfeiture system to protect the rights and property of Arizonans.

Under current asset forfeiture laws, Arizonans can have their property seized by law enforcement without a crime having been committed. They can also lose their property if it was used in a criminal activity without their knowledge – authorities do not have to prove the property owner knew.

Combined with a difficult-to-navigate process for citizens trying to get their property back, that includes a short 30-day window to file a claim on that property, the deck is inappropriately stacked against Arizonans.

Arizona has a strong history of protecting the rights of the individual, but is far behind other states on this issue. Currently, 19 states require a criminal conviction for forfeiture, 16 require a criminal conviction to forfeit property in civil court, and 3 have abolished forfeiture.

SB 1556 would address these problems by requiring a conviction before assets can be forfeited, with certain exceptions. After all, if there is no crime, the state should not be forfeiting an innocent owner’s property.

It also includes the due process Arizonans deserve, providing clear and reasonable timeframes for notification to the property owner, and for the owner to file a claim. It shifts the burden of proof to the state, where it belongs.

There is no excuse for taking the hard-earned property of innocent people. None. The state cannot be allowed to take people’s belongings, and trample their rights. That is theft. It is no wonder many Arizona legislators have been working hard to fix the civil asset forfeiture process.

For these reasons, we strongly urge you to pass SB 1556.

 

Sincerely,

Grover G. Norquist

President

Americans for Tax Reform

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The IRS Horror Show

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Posted by William H Paul on Thursday, October 26th, 2017, 4:15 PM PERMALINK

This is the heartbreaking true story of the Kwon’s a hardworking immigrant family in pursuit of the American Dream – but greeted with an American Nightmare.

Oh Suk Kwon – South Korean immigrant and U.S. army veteran – was proud to run his small-business alongside his wife and two kids. But only a few years passed before a “hunch” led federal investigators to their doorstep in 2011. The agents accused Kwon of “structuring” his deposits in amounts less than ten thousand dollars. Since all that is needed for asset seizures is a suspicion of criminal activity to take a person’s property, the Kwon’s were helpless in the face of an IRS legal onslaught.

But despite having zero history of tax evasion, terrorist ties, or any criminal activity, the IRS continued to seize all of the service station’s capital through an unconstitutional abuse of power called civil asset forfeiture. The process allows for property to be seized and forfeited without ever charging, much less convicting the owner of a crime. These seizures are often justified by mere suspicion with little, if any, actual evidence tying property or currency to a crime. The practice negates an American’s right to due process and reflects an erroneous assumption that Americans are guilty until proven innocent.

Kwon innocently plead guilty to the technicality of structuring even though his intent wasn’t of a criminal nature. This would act as the final nail for the IRS to shut the coffin on a business that was, very much, alive. A Washington Post article stated that when his neighbors were interviewed during the investigation, Kwon said, “They saw me as Korean. As a veteran. They were surprised to see me as a criminal. I will never forget that.”

Out of the shame caused by having their business destroyed, the Kwon family left the neighborhood. Kwon’s wife in of the distress. The feds never uncovered any evidence of criminal activity, and still – to this day – possess the fifty-nine thousand dollars that tore this family apart.

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) has since sponsored the RESPECT Act in efforts to restore these Constitutional rights. The Restraining Excessive Seizure of Property through the Exploitation of Civil asset forfeiture Tools (RESPECT) Act recently passed in the House and is pending a vote in the senate. Americans for Tax Reform released a coalition letter urging support for this act and the similar Due Process Act.


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Seizing Civil Asset Forfeiture from the Feds

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Posted by Kyle Loeber on Thursday, August 3rd, 2017, 10:07 AM PERMALINK

Legislators are creating solutions for a persisting problem: civil asset forfeiture. This practice jeopardizes the financial security of law-abiding citizens by allowing law enforcement to confiscate their property. Americans for Tax Reform joins six other conservative organizations in a coalition letter that addresses the problem of civil asset forfeiture:

“Civil forfeiture is a process that allows property to be seized and forfeited without ever charging, much less convicting, its owner of a crime. Often, these seizures are justified by mere suspicion with little, if any, actual evidence tying property or currency to an illicit act. At this point, property owners must navigate a tortuous, skewed legal landscape that requires them to prove, in essence, their own innocence.”

In opposition to this policy, Americans for Tax Reform supports current efforts moving through the House of Representatives such as the DUE PROCESS Act and RESPECT Act. These proposals would increase the system’s transparency and raise the burden of proof to a “clear and convincing” standard, and make it harder for the IRS to steal money from innocent people’s bank accounts.

Authored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the DUE PROCESS Act is especially keen on protecting accused citizens. The bill focuses on the government’s responsibility to prove wrong doing and enforces recent policy changes at the Internal Revenue Service that would restrict their ability to seize assets without clear evidence.

The Respect Act, introduced by Rep. Pete Roscam (R-Ill.) speeds up the recovery process for assets taken when they have no relation to the allegations.

Ultimately, the federal government should be working towards criminal asset forfeiture procedures to protect Americans that have not been convicted of, or even charged with, any crime.

The legislation moving through Congress does not serve as a final solution, but certainly takes a step in the right direction. ATR encourages lawmakers to support these bills and other smart-on-crime approaches that defend our constitutional values by improving or enhancing existing statutes, while also saving money.

Read the full letter here 

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RESPECT Act Suspects the IRS isn't Playing Fair

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Posted by Kyle Loeber on Tuesday, July 18th, 2017, 12:03 PM PERMALINK

Imagine running a small, cash-only business for 40 years when Internal Revenue Service agents arrive at the door one morning. They inform you of $33,000 seized from your accounts due to the agency’s suspicion that a crime occurred.

Carole Hinders experienced this first hand and many other law abiding citizens are fighting IRS civil asset forfeiture policies right now. This practice allows law enforcement to take money from individuals who have not been convicted of a crime. Last week, however, major legislation unanimously passed through the Ways & Means Subcommittee that will mark a significant shift in the way the IRS can abuse civil asset forfeiture.

In order to combat IRS overreach, Rep. Roskam (R-IL) and Rep. Crowley (D-NY) introduced the Restraining Excessive Seizure of Property through the Exploitation of Civil Asset Forfeiture Tools, or RESPECT Act. The legislation “revises the authority and procedures that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses to seize property that has been structured to avoid Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) reporting requirements.” It also requires the IRS to find individuals who were affected and make them aware of their rights.

Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist has come out in support of this legislation. According to Norquist, “HR 1843 [RESPECT Act] would bar the IRS from performing these seizures unless they have a real underlying crime to justify their actions.”

Under authority of the IRS Criminal Investigation unit (CI), the federal government seized $17.1 million in 2016. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) also asserted that “current law does not require that the funds have an illegal source” to be eligible for forfeiture. Highlighted on page three of the above TIGTA report, findings show there has been a serious mishandling of civil asset forfeiture policy.

There are clear implications with laws that simply do not conform to the constitution. Americans have a right to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

Taking assets from citizens without sufficient evidence creates a slippery slope in which the government places the onus on law abiding taxpayers and business owners. Reporting from the New York Times in 2014 unveiled “the government can take the money without ever filing a criminal complaint, and the owners are left to prove they are innocent. Many give up.” The IRS holds unilateral power to employ civil asset forfeiture under current law and the RESPECT Act aims to curb this exploitation of average Americans.

For too long the IRS has disregarded the financial realities of everyday small businesses. Eliminating explicit overreach through legislation is the least Congressional leaders can commit to for those that lay the foundation of the American economy. Americans for Tax Reform encourages lawmakers to support the RESPECT Act as a first step towards defending vital constitutional rights.

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Ohio Senate Must Act to Protect Citizens’ Property Rights in Civil Asset Forfeiture Bill

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Friday, December 2nd, 2016, 4:24 PM PERMALINK

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. 

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Norquist: Pennsylvania House Needs to Pass Asset Forfeiture Reform This Year

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Tuesday, October 25th, 2016, 5:07 PM PERMALINK

On Friday, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist co-authored an opinion editorial for PennLive with Faith and Freedom Coalition Executive Director Timothy Head and Freedom Works CEO and President Adam Brandon on why Pennsylvania needs civil asset forfeiture reform in 2016.

The article emphasizes PA Senate’s recent vote to pass asset forfeiture reform in its house to “improve property rights across the state.” Now, it is up to the House Judiciary Committee to get the bill through the legislature before this session ends in November.

Civil asset forfeiture, the process where law enforcement officials can seize property from citizens who have not been criminally convicted, has been significantly abused in Pennsylvania. Recently, the state’s Attorney General, Kathleen Kane, admitted to seizing $1.77 million in cash using civil asset forfeiture laws to profit off the seizures. On this issue, the article states:

“The money is very good in the forfeiture business – if you happen to work for the government. So good, in fact, that it becomes easy to lose track of it.

A current case in point involves now-disgraced Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who only recently admitted to seizing $1.77 million in cash using civil asset forfeiture laws.

As questions grew louder, the circumstances involving the cash – that had been sitting in boxes in her office for nearly two years – came to light.”

Millions of dollars sat in Kane’s office for two years, and there was no significant mechanism to check this seizure.

In the Institute for Justice’s Policing for Profit report released last November, Pennsylvania received a D- for its poor protections of innocent property owners, low bar for police to seize property, lack of conviction required to take property, and harmful use of profit with 100% of forfeiture proceeds going to law enforcement.

Pennsylvanians deserve to be treated better by law enforcement officials. That is why Americans for Tax Reform supports the current civil asset forfeiture reform bill in the state’s House of Representatives that passed the State Senate 43-7.

Please read and share Norquist’s article (found here) on these necessary measures to restore Pennsylvanian property rights before the 2016 legislative session ends. 

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