New Hampshire is not one of the worst jurisdictions when it comes to civil asset forfeiture – in fact, they are among the best. That having been said, the Republican-led New Hampshire House of Representatives has taken an important step that other states should follow. The House voted to approve a package of reforms, including most importantly a measure that prevented police departments from keeping assets they seize from citizens:
CONCORD — The House initially approved a bill moving money from the drug forfeiture fund to the state’s general fund, an estimated $50,000 to $60,000 a year.
House Bill 636 requires a criminal conviction before there can be a forfeiture, something that is currently the practice but not in the law, and changes the burden of proof to “clear and convincing evidence.”
And the bill makes it clear that the process of forfeiture cannot be applied to “innocent owners.” For example, if a car is stolen and then used in a drug sale, the vehicle’s owner cannot have his property seized.
As noted here, New Hampshire isn’t a known abuser of the civil asset forfeiture process like, say, the City of Philadelphia, which seizes $6M in property annually from Philadelphia citizens. However, these steps are still important to protect the due process rights of citizens and to remove the incentive for police to focus on activities that pad their department’s pocketbook rather than on the actual reduction of crime. Perhaps not surprisingly, the opposition to this bill came from Democrats:
Rep. Timothy Horrigan, D-Durham, sought to keep the current distribution formula, saying the money is needed to help local law enforcement with the state’s current drug crisis.
“It’s not a lot of money,” he said, “but we need it.”
Not surpisingly at all, the police unions are upset:
The Attorney General and the State Police Chiefs’ Association oppose putting the money into the general fund.
Tilton Police Chief Robert Cormier, the association’s president, wrote to the House Judiciary Committee that the chiefs fear the change would cripple enforcement by both state and local agencies.
“Forfeiture money helps fund the drug units, and training and is used for future drug buys needed to prosecute drug dealers,” Cormier wrote. “Taking that away would cripple our ability to put any drug sales cases together, and with the huge drug issues we are facing, the timing of this is alarming for all of law enforcement.”
And why might that be? Well, maybe this video here from my home state of Tennessee will shed some light on the matter:
Kudos to the New Hampshire House for doing the right thing here.