Civil asset forfeiture reform bill clears House

Rubel

Burtenshaw

BOISE — A proposal to limit when police can take a citizen’s property cleared its latest hurdle Thursday despite warnings from critics that doing so will mean the Legislature is softening its stance on crime.

House members voted 58-10 to advance legislation that would forbid police from seizing cash or property simply because it was in close proximity to an illegal substance.

Lawmakers noted that having cash near contraband cannot be grounds for seizure.

The bill also would ban seizing vehicles unless they are connected to trafficking offenses, require judicial approval for agencies to keep forfeited assets, and create reporting requirements for law enforcement agencies on forfeited property.

“This legislation ensures that law enforcement may continue to seize drug proceeds while ensuring the due process rights of Idaho residents are protected,” said Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, co-sponsor of the bill. “The police should be able to take drug money, but not your waitressing tips.”

Idaho’s current civil asset forfeiture law allows police to seize someone’s cash or cars if authorities believe it’s tied to a crime as a way to fight large-scale criminal operations. A person doesn’t need to be charged with a crime in order to have property seized.

States around the country have been scrutinizing their forfeiture laws in recent years as civil liberties groups and others highlighted abuses where police raked in cash and property despite hazy connections to a purported crime.

However, proponents of civil asset forfeiture counter that the state should trust law enforcement agencies are taking items used to commit drug crimes in the fight to weaken drug kingpins across the state.

Law enforcement agencies such as the Fraternal Order of Police, as well as the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association, have remained neutral on the bill. The Idaho Sheriff’s Association opposes the measure.

“Are we going to vote for this and go back to our districts to tell our voters, ‘Vote for me, I’m soft on crime,’” said Rep. Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton.

HB 202 now goes to the Idaho Senate for consideration.