Toledo Blade Editorial: Reform Asset Forfeiture

The Toledo Blade today published an editorial calling on lawmakers in Ohio and Michigan to reform the states’ civil asset forfeiture laws.

Here are excerpts from the piece:

A national group called Fix Forfeiture estimates that over the past decade, about $80 million in assets have been forfeited in Ohio. In Michigan, which has some of the toughest forfeiture laws in the country, law enforcement agencies seized at least $272.5 million worth of property in drug investigations alone from 2001 to 2013. The total value of all forfeitures is probably much higher, even though drug cases account for most property seizures.

A bill before the Ohio House, which has the support of conservative and liberal advocacy groups, would greatly restrict civil asset forfeiture in the state. Law enforcement agencies could apply federal forfeiture law only to seizures worth more than $50,000. Smaller civil forfeitures under state law could proceed only after a criminal conviction.

Even then, police and prosecutors would have to present “clear and convincing evidence” that particular property was involved in a crime before it could be seized; current law essentially forces Ohioans whose property was confiscated civilly to prove their innocence. (Criminal forfeiture requires a showing by law enforcement of the owner’s guilt.)

Police could still seize property as evidence. But legally owned items — as opposed to illegal drugs or weapons — would have to be returned in the absence of a conviction or criminal charge.

In Michigan, a package of bills the Legislature has sent Gov. Rick Snyder, which is backed by some police lobbies, would also raise the bar for civil forfeitures. As with the Ohio bill, the burden of proof would be on law enforcement agencies to present clear and convincing evidence, not a “preponderance” of evidence as in current law, linking seized property to specific crimes. The legislation also would require agencies to monitor and report on the property they confiscate.

Read the full piece here.