Arizona’s Governor Ducey signs law requiring conviction before property seizures

Jeremy doubt

Arizona mirror

Prosecutors and law enforcement agencies can no longer permanently seize people’s property for suspected criminal activity without actually convicting them of a crime after Governor Doug Ducey signed a landmark law reforming Arizona civil forfeiture laws.

By signing House Bill 2810 on Wednesday, Ducey helped property rights advocates achieve a long-term goal of overhauling Arizona’s civilian asset deterioration system. After years of unsuccessful attempts and minor reforms, the bill was passed in the 2021 legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Under Arizona’s current system, law enforcement agencies can confiscate someone’s property if they believe it is related to a crime. There is no need to convict or even charge the owner, and in some cases property is confiscated without anyone being charged. Opponents of the system have spent years highlighting cases of parents losing vehicles or cash because their adult children were trafficking drugs. Much of the proceeds go to the authorities who confiscate the property.

Individuals seeking the recovery of their seized property must hire lawyers to fight decay in a civil court, and the seizing agency only needs to meet the relatively low threshold of providing clear and convincing evidence that the property is linked to a crime .

In his signature letter on Wednesday, Ducey thanked the bill sponsor, Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, and touted HB2810 as a property protection agent. He pointed out that the Arizona Constitution grants broader personal and property rights than its federal counterpart, and as governor he said he has a responsibility to balance those rights against the needs of law enforcement.

“Arizonans can be strong in fighting organized crime and criminal activity without sacrificing the rights of law-abiding citizens guaranteed by our constitution,” Ducey wrote.

Ducey stressed that law enforcement can still seize property for later confiscation or if it is evidence of a crime. However, HB2810 ensures that seized property is actually linked to a crime and gives innocent people greater opportunities to get their property back.

The core provision of the law requires prosecutors to obtain a conviction for a person before most of the property can be forfeited. It also prevents the Attorney General’s office from using Anti-Predator Fund funds to pay salaries and gives people more time to challenge the forfeiture of their property in court. The government must also announce that it intends to forfeit someone’s property. And the bill prohibits the police from forcing people to give up their right to their property.

The Institute for Justice, a conservative advocacy group that has campaigned for a conviction for years, welcomed Ducey’s signing of HB2810.

“Civil decay threatens everyone’s property and due process rights,” said Paul Avelar, an attorney with the Institute of Justice. “The government can take your car, home, and savings without ever charging you with a crime, let alone convicting you. HB2810 is making major reforms to Arizona confiscation laws to protect innocent property owners from government abuse. “

According to the Institute for Justice, Arizona becomes the 16th state with a civil forfeiture conviction, the 14th state plus Washington, DC, to require the government to require someone not to be innocent before confiscating property, and only the fourth State with an anti-coercive law.

The bill met opposition from law enforcement and prosecutors. Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel urged Ducey to veto HB2810, informing him in a letter dated 30th Judicial Oversight, Transparency and Due Process.

“This bill reflects a gross misunderstanding of the role civil asset deterioration plays in the security of our community. Confiscation of civil assets is an important tool used by law enforcement agencies to efficiently disrupt the money supply to criminal companies and quickly recover property from crime victims, ”Adel wrote.

Before the bill was put to the full Senate vote, District Attorneys for Maricopa, Pinal, and Yavapai Counties urged Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, to narrow the scope of the bill. A proposed change, which was never approved, would have removed the proposed sentencing obligation for the forfeiture of cash. However, the bill was never changed in the Senate and passed with 29 to 1 votes from the Chamber.

The Institute for Justice’s latest report on civilian property confiscation for fiscal year 2019 showed that Arizona law enforcement officials generated $ 24 million in civil property confiscation revenue. Instead of large sums of money and expensive property, most Arizona confiscation cases involve less than $ 1,000 in property, according to the institute.

Only 3% of the proceeds go to community programs and donations and only 1% goes to reparations for victims, while 34% goes to pay for law enforcement and prosecution staff, Avelar said.

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