Finally, some common sense may come to civil asset forfeiture law!

Newly-elected Senator Laura Woods has proposed a law that would keep police in Colorado from seizing assets unless the person is convicted of a crime. The premise is simple: “Guilty people will lose the fruits of their crimes, but innocent people will get their assets back.”

She wants to put an end to “seizing for salaries and policing for profit,” so that civil asset forfeiture is not viewed as a revenue stream anymore.

Colorado’s current law is stricter than some: assets may be seized if a person doesn’t show up to court, or if they die before their case is decided. But many departments get around the state laws by involving a federal agency and using less restrictive federal laws governing civil asset forfeiture.

Here’s how Woods’ measure would discourage abuse of the law:

Senate Bill 2015-006 would prevent police from taking any assets without a guilty conviction unless there is a settlement with all the parties, including the owner, agreeing to give up the property. The legislation is also likely to discourage police from going to the feds because any money from sold assets would go directly to the state general fund instead of to individual police agencies.

The fight to defend people from greedy police departments crosses party lines, so Woods is optimistic about support of her bill. Those targeted by civil asset forfeiture often can’t afford a lawyer to help reclaim their seized goods or money.

Not surprisingly, the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police plans to oppose the bill, saying it will “significantly hamper law enforcement efforts” and arguing that the limits already in place are sufficient.

Woods’ move comes after significant public outrage at stories revealing the extent of civil asset forfeiture. This outcry has simultaneously spurred Attorney General Eric Holder to introduce new limits to the federal program of civil asset forfeiture. The new measures are intended to combat the abuses that have stemmed from the laws originally meant to help the war on drugs.

Formerly, “Local police agencies have been able to get around those [state] laws through the equitable sharing program, which basically federalizes investigations solely for the purpose of letting local police departments and prosecutors keep the bounties they collect in these cases.” Holder’s new policy is designed to put a stop to that. The Department of Justice announcement “banned federal agencies from seizing assets from local law enforcement cases without conviction unless the property is a safety concern like weapons, drugs and child pornography.”

This could be a very good thing, if it weren’t for several exceptions to the policy. It exempts certain seizures depending on their level of involvement with federal investigations. And the language is just fuzzy enough to hide what could be a very large loophole – one possibly large enough to allow any multi-jurisdictional drug task force to continue on just as before.

This could make the new policy little more than a paper Holder can wave saying “Look, I did something!” without actually having much impact. The real meaning of the exceptions is yet to be seen.

The bad news is, “the policy won’t change federal civil asset forfeiture at all, nor will it affect the laws in states whose forfeiture laws are more friendly to police than federal forfeiture laws.” But it could be a first step in the right direction.

About The Author

Mark was a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, and served as the national coordinator. He left the organization to work more broadly on expanding the self-governance movement beyond the partisan divide. Mark appears regularly on television in outlets as diverse as MSNBC, ABC, NBC, Fox News, CNN, Bloomberg, Fox Business and the BBC. He’s highly sought after for the tea party perspective from print and electronic media outlets, from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, L.A. Times, Washington Examiner, Politico and the The Hill. Mark blogs at MarkMeckler.com, and his opinion editorials regularly run in many of the leading political newspapers both on and offline. Mark has a BA in English from San Diego State University and graduated with honors from University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in 1988. He practiced real estate and business law for almost a decade. For the last eleven years of his legal career he specialized in Internet advertising law. When not fighting for the future of our nation, Mark is an avid horseman, and lives in rural northern California with his wife Patty and two children.

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