I am a conservative, but my libertarian tendencies show from time to time. Civil asset forfeiture has a long history of abuse by law enforcement. I lived in Florida for 14 years and merely mentioning Sheriff Joe Vogel evokes memories of the worst kind of abuse of civil asset forfeiture. Vogel and his deputies were notorious for seizing cash from people along Interstate 95 in the 1990’s. They took nearly $6.5 million in cash and only filed charges in 25% of those cases.
In many states, authorities are allowed to keep 100% of what they seize. The worst aspect of civil asset forfeiture is the cost to recover the cash and items seized. It is not an easy task and often, the cost of doing so is more than was taken and people simply give up.
Gradually, the movement towards tampering down on civil asset forfeiture is gaining momentum, and now there is finally one victory to celebrate. Nebraska has banned civil asset forfeiture (and becomes only the third state, joining North Carolina and New Mexico, without civil asset forfeiture). The state will now require a criminal conviction for cash or property to be seized:
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts signed a bill on Tuesday that eliminates civil forfeiture, which allows law enforcement to seize and keep property without filing charges or securing criminal convictions. The bill, LB 1106, passed the unicameral legislature last week by a vote of 38 to 8.
Civil forfeiture has ensnared a wide swath of victims in Nebraska. A Peruvian pastor once had $14,000 seized during a traffic stop. Only after the local chapter of the ACLU intervened was he able to recover his cash. Last year, a federal appellate court upheld forfeiting more than $63,000 in savings from a decorated Air Force veteran, even though he was never charged with a crime.
The newly signed law provides sweeping reforms. First and foremost, Nebraska now requires a criminal conviction to forfeit property. The accused must be convicted of an offense involving illegal drugs, child pornography or illegal gambling to lose their cash, vehicles, firearms or real estate.
This is great news. It’s not going to be easy. In Georgia, where I reside now, there is no chance something like this would pass. Georgia has 159 counties each with their own Sheriff’s Department. Also, there are counties with their police departments (Cobb County) as well as local police departments and the state police. That’s a lot of money needed, and asset forfeiture is one way these departments get funding.
This is a step in the right direction.