The Idaho House of Representatives voted unanimously Wednesday to slash law enforcement’s ability to take cash and private property through civil asset forfeiture.
If passed through the Senate, the bill would prevent police from forfeiting large amounts of cash simply because the amount is suspicious, the Post Register reported. It also allows victims of civil forfeiture to keep provisional ownership of their property during forfeiture litigation. The House and Senate passed a similar bill in 2017, but Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, a Republican, vetoed it.
Civil forfeiture allows police to take and keep property they believe was involved in a crime. The value of that property is then added to the department or agency’s own funding, creating what some call a dangerous incentive. (RELATED: Police Op-Ed Begging Alabama To Keep Civil Forfeiture Reveals An Ugly Truth)
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been a staunch advocate for civil forfeiture throughout his tenure, issuing new policy guidelines in July encouraging law enforcement officers to make more forfeitures. (RELATED: Manhattan DA Is Doling Out $734 Million In Forfeiture Funds With Virtually No Oversight)
Federal authorities took more than $4 billion through forfeiture in 2015, and most states allow departments to keep the vast majority – if not all – of the proceeds from the forfeitures they make. North Dakota and Massachusetts are tied for the worst states in the U.S. on civil forfeiture, according to a study from the Institute for Justice (IJ). Both received an “F” from the group on the issue, but the rest of the country isn’t much better — a full 21 states are tied at a “D-,” including Idaho.
The study sorted states based on their legal standards required to justify forfeiture, how much of the forfeited revenue goes toward law enforcement officers’ own budgets and whether the burden of proof is on the defendant to establish innocence.
“The highest standard is ‘beyond reasonable doubt,’ which is about 95 percent certainty of guilt,” IJ Senior Legislative Counsel Lee McGrath told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The lowest standard is ‘probable cause,’ which is about 35 percent certainty.”
Idaho requires only a preponderance of the evidence to complete a forfeiture, all the proceeds go to law enforcement, and the burden of proof is on the owner to prove his property’s innocence.
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