The Ohio State Senate is expected to pass a bill that will limit the ability of law enforcement to seize an individual’s property without first securing a criminal conviction sometime next week.
Supporters like the United States Justice Action Network, a coalition of progressive and conservative organizations, have spent the past year and a half arguing that it’s time to improve protections for citizens in Ohio in order to prevent the seizure of their homes, cash, or other property solely based on suspicion of criminal wrongdoing. Three members of the Justice Action Network co-wrote and released a statement supporting these legislative changes:
“In criminal cases, the burden of proof rests with the prosecution to prove a defendant’s guilt. But in forfeiture cases, the property owner is put in a position in which he must prove that he obtained his property lawfully.”
This bill passes the House back in May of this year, but has faced consistent opposition from prosecutors and police chiefs since it was first introduced, which led to some Senate committee lawmakers delaying taking action until they could approve an amendment that would address some of the concerns raised by those groups.
The pre-amended language in House Bill 347 eliminated all civil asset forfeiture, though the prohibition was softened following discussions with law enforcement and prosecutors who view the process of seizing assets and money as a way to take those items away from major drug suppliers.
Even with the amendments to the bill, the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association is still opposed to the potential changes. John Murphy, the Executive Director of the Association, defended the current civil forfeiture law in Ohio. He claimed that the bill was misguided, and that the increased reports of abuses of forfeiture laws came from the federal level or from other states.
“It is chalk full of due process protections,” he said about Ohio’s current law. “There is no evidence of substantial abuse of the forfeiture statute in Ohio.”
House Bill 347 would allow a civil forfeiture against someone who allegedly received the assets or funds from human trafficking, theft, or drug crimes as long as the proceeds totaled $25,000 or more. Robert Alt, the president of the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, one of the groups that testified in support of the bill, urged lawmakers to not lower the amount to $10,000, a number others are advocating for. He stated that lowering the cash threshold could leave innocent business owners vulnerable if they choose to carry around large sums of cash. The ACLU of Ohio joined Alt and the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions in testifying their support of the bill.
Murphy argued against the $25,000 threshold, claiming that drug traffickers will exploit this by making sure that their shipments never meet that number.
Alt said that House Bill 347 strikes a good balance between protecting rights of Ohioans and allowing law enforcement to do its job. He went on to say that bad examples of abuse of civil forfeiture law has created a negative perception problem for law enforcement.
“This will remove that stain with how it is perceived that they are operating.”
Next week may be the final legislative voting session for this General Assembly.