Virginia General Assembly Unanimously Passes Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform
On March 10, 2016, the Virginia House of Delegates unanimously voted to reform a certain aspect of their civil asset forfeiture system by passing SB 457. The bill changes the burden of proof outlined by the Virginia State Crime Commission from “preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.” This bill would make it more difficult for the government to obtain a judgment of forfeiture because it requires a higher burden of proof for the Commonwealth in the forfeiture proceeding against the property owner. The bill also allows an owner whose property was seized to request a trial by jury during the forfeiture proceeding, should the Commonwealth seek to have the property forfeited.
The modifications to state code signal a shift in Virginia politicians’ attitude towards civil asset forfeiture. The Institute for Justice and FreedomWorks both gave the Old Dominion’s asset forfeiture laws a “D-” grade for past performance. Although the Virginia Senate rejected a proposed amendment requiring a criminal conviction for the state to secure a judgement of forfeiture, SB 457 is nevertheless sure to improve that “D-” grade. The bipartisan sponsorship and support of the bill is a good sign moving forward. Additionally, Virginia can continue to improve its civil asset forfeiture laws. The ALEC model Asset Forfeiture Process and Private Property Protection Act lays out additional reforms that states can undertake, including requiring a criminal conviction in order for an owner’s property to be forfeited in favor of the state.