New Arkansas Law Drastically Limits Civil Asset Forfeiture

The New American reported on a bill in Arkansas that would abolish civil asset forfeiture in “practically all cases” going into effect on July 24.

State Senator Bart Hester declared, “There shall be no civil judgment under this subchapter and no property shall be forfeited unless the person from whom the property is seized is convicted of a felony offense that [is] related to the property being seized and that permits the forfeiture of the property.”

This bill was unanimously approved in both houses of the Arkansas Legislature, with Governor Asa Hutchinson signing the bill into law in March. The new law stipulates that the state is barred from seizing a person’s property unless it has a criminal conviction in the first place.

Prior to the passage of this law, the state of Arkansas had made steps to withdraw from the federal program known as “equitable sharing.” Through equitable sharing, state and local police, and prosecutors could circumvent state restrictions on civil asset forfeiture by handing off cases to the federal government through the practice of “adoption.”

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Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was a big proponent of asset forfeiture under his watch. The U.S. Department of Justice would routinely “share” the asset forfeiture spoils with state and local law enforcement.

Asset forfeiture refers to a legal process in which law-enforcement agencies take assets from individuals they suspect of committing a crime, without even charging the owners of the property of a crime. In contrast, criminal asset forfeiture bestows the accused all the constitutional safeguards under criminal law. In essence, they must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt before any property is seized.

In response to this abhorrent legal practice, some states have passed laws to limit states’ practice of civil asset forfeiture. However, as mentioned before, conniving politicians will try to get around these laws by engaging in “equitable sharing” and cooperating with the federal government to seize property.

Under Arkansas’ new law, transferring property to the federal government is prohibited, except in the cases that it receives judicial approval.

Arkansas’ latest civil asset forfeiture reform shows that there is more promise at the state and local levels for these kinds of reforms.

Let’s hope more states follow in Arkansas’ footsteps.

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