Transparency Critical to Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform
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Civil asset forfeiture abuses in various states throughout the country are well-documented. There are several instances where individuals have seen their property seized by the state or federal government, despite the fact they were never charged with a crime. For those whose property has been forfeited, the process of getting it back is even more daunting. In many instances, the burden is on the individual whose property was seized to prove their innocence. States have begun to address these issues, and ALEC applauds efforts to reform and make improvements to the status quo.
This year’s legislative session has seen Maryland undertake the task of comprehensive civil asset forfeiture reform, as the legislature passed modest reforms in 2015. Senator Michael Hough, a Republican, introduced Senate Bill 161 (S.B. 161), which contains several provisions of the ALEC model Asset Forfeiture Process and Private Property Protection Act. One feature both the ALEC model policy and S.B. 161 share is a requirement that law enforcement agencies that have conducted either seizures or forfeitures be more open and transparent. For example, some requirements of S.B. 161 include that on an annual basis each law enforcement agency shall report the date of the seizure, the type of property seized, the type of crime associated with the seizure, the outcome of the related criminal action, whether the property owner was represented by an attorney in the forfeiture case, and the market value of the property seized. Both Republicans and Democrats support these reforms, as evidenced by S.B. 161 passing out of the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee unanimously.