On January 4, 2017, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed House Bill 347 into law, which will require a criminal conviction before law enforcement can seize property for most civil asset forfeiture cases. Ohio will join eleven other states that have similar restrictions.
Civil asset forfeiture is a legal tool utilized by police departments throughout the nation. If a property is somehow linked to criminal activity, it may be seized. In theory, civil asset forfeiture prevents many crimes from occurring by inhibiting a criminal, or criminals, from having the necessary means for committing a future crime, or to bust a criminal altogether.
However, seldom is civil asset forfeiture used for this purpose. In most cases, it is used as a moneymaker for the local police department. For example, in 2006, 2007, and 2008, the Tenaha (Texas) police department was found to have purposefully seized property and cash from innocent drivers, without any evidence to back up their actions. Unfortunately, in 2010, $2.5 billion in assets and money was seized via civil asset forfeiture, which is almost a 2 billion dollar increase from the amount seized in 2004, just six years prior.
“Government shouldn’t be allowed to ignore property rights, especially on not much more than a hunch.”
-Ohio Senator Kris Jordan
Additionally, the new law closes the loophole that would enable law enforcement to bypass and essentially ignore the new state law. This loophole is known as “equitable sharing,” which is where the local and state authorities could simply forfeit the assets to the federal government, and receive 80% of the assets value.
The recently passed bill will require that the government convict the property owner in criminal court in order to forfeit properties valued under $15,000, whereas properties valued above $15,000 will remain a civil process. Regardless, authorities will have to show “clear and convincing evidence” that property is a tied to criminal activity.
Ultimately, the new Ohio law will serve to protect its 11 million constituents from the unethical practice of civil asset forfeiture, which has stolen billions from the pockets of Ohioans and Americans alike.
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