Maine reforms civil asset forfeiture
There is some good news on the civil asset forfeiture front – and it comes from Maine, where the state has approved a law that requires a conviction before law enforcement is allowed to seize property.
According to the Tenth Amendment Center’s Amanda Bowers:
Rep. William Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor) along with two fellow Republicans, four Democrats and a Libertarian, introduced House Bill 1521 (LD1521) on April 15. The new law repeals the state’s civil forfeiture process and implements a criminal procedure that requires a conviction before prosecutors can proceed with asset forfeiture in most cases.
“It’s a very simple concept; you don’t lose your property unless you used it in the commission of a crime, or knowingly allowed someone else to use it in the commission of a crime,” bill sponsor Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham wrote in May testimony supporting his bill. “It is time to end this workaround that makes people prove innocence, rather than prosecutors proving guilt. This is one of the founding principles of our country.”
The law also effectively opts Maine out of a federal program that allows state and local police to get around more strict state asset forfeiture laws. This is particularly important in light of a policy directive issued in July 2017 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the Department of Justice (DOJ) that remains in effect today.
On June 3, both the House and the Senate gave final approval to LD1521. Gov. Janet Mills took no action within her allotted time and it became law without her signature on July 13. The law went into effect on Oct. 18.
This is a positive reform that curbs a practice that encouraged property seizures before any guilt – and sometimes even any charges – were secured. More states should follow suit.