New Arizona Law Takes on State, Federal Asset Forfeiture

By Michael Maharrey

On Tuesday, a new Arizona law reforming the state’s civil asset forfeiture process went into effect. The new law also takes on federal forfeiture programs by banning prosecutors from circumventing state laws by passing cases off to the feds.

Rep. Eddie Farnsworth (R-Gilbert) introduced House Bill 2477 (HB2477) on Feb. 7. The new law requires prosecutors to establish a higher evidentiary standard for asset forfeiture. Under the old process, the law only requires a preponderance of the evidence. HB2477 raises that, requiring police and prosecutors to provide “clear and convincing evidence” the property was linked to a crime. While the new law does not require a criminal conviction before proceeding with asset forfeiture, it takes a step toward reforming Arizona’s forfeiture laws under that essential standard.

An AZCIR analysis in January found that Arizona agencies seized nearly $200 million in property between 2011 and 2015 from people who may never have been charged or convicted of a crime.

HB2477 also drastically increases transparency. It establishes stringent asset forfeiture reporting requirements law enforcement agencies now must follow. Additionally, police will have to detail how seized funds are spent. Under the new law, prosecutors must receive county board of supervisor approval before spending forfeiture proceeds.

Provisions in the new law relating to participation in the federal program are particularly important in light of a new policy directive issued last month by Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the Department of Justice (DOJ).

FEDERAL LOOPHOLE

A federal program known as “Equitable Sharing,” allows prosecutors to bypass more stringent state asset forfeiture laws by passing cases off to the federal government. For example, California previously had some of the strongest state-level restrictions on civil asset forfeiture in the country, but law enforcement would often bypass these restrictions by claiming cases were federal in nature. Under these arrangements, state officials would simply hand cases over to a federal agency, participate in the case, and then receive up to 80 percent of the proceeds—even when state law banned or limited the practice.

The new DOJ directive reiterates full support for the equitable sharing program, directs federal law enforcement agencies to aggressively utilize it, and sets the stage to expand it in the future. However, when states merely withdraw from participation, the federal directive loses it impact.

According to the IJ report, Arizona has been one of the worst offenders of this program:

Arizona law enforcement’s use of the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program results in a ranking of 32nd nationally. In calendar years 2000 to 2013, Arizona law enforcement agencies received nearly $70 million in DOJ equitable sharing proceeds, averaging just under $5 million per year.

HB2477 effectively closes this loophole. It reads, in part:

The seizing agency or the attorney for the state may not enter into any agreement to transfer or refer seized property to a federal agency for the purpose of forfeiture if the property was seized pursuant to an investigation that either:

1.  Did not involve a federal agency.

2.  Involves a violation of a state law and no violation of a federal law is alleged.

Property that is seized in a joint investigation may not be transferred or referred to a federal agency for the purpose of forfeiture unless the gross estimated value of the seized property is more than seventy‑five thousand dollars.

Reporting in some areas has already shown that 85 percent of  seizures received by law enforcement agencies through the federal equitable sharing program did not event meet a $50,000 threshold, so HB2477’s higher requirement is seen by supporters as significant.

“While we’d like to see Arizona and every other state completely opt out of this federal program, an 80-85% reduction in seizures through this federal scheme will be a huge step forward to nullify it in practice and effect,” said Tenth Amendment Center executive director Michael Boldin.

OPPOSITION

While the reforms are modest in comparison with those under consideration in many states, law enforcement and prosecutors aggressively lobbied against the bill. Activists obtained letters sent to representatives from at least three police departments opposing the bill. (click here to read the documents)

Despite the opposition, HB2477 passed the House with a 60-0 vote in February. In April, the Senate approved an amended version 30-0. The House concurred with the Senate amendments by a 55-1 vote, Rep. Becky Nutt (R) was the lone no-vote.

“Civil forfeiture is perhaps the greatest threat to private property rights in Arizona today,” Institute for Justice attorney Paul Avelar told ABC 15. “HB 2477 makes incremental but important reforms to Arizona’s forfeiture laws to protect innocent property owners and ensure that government powers are not abused.”

Grassroots activists in the state, including Arizona Tenth Amendment Center volunteers Joel Alcott and Michael Gibbs, put in long hours opposing law enforcement lobbying efforts and nursing the bill through the process. Boldin called the grassroots efforts “a difference maker.”

The law enforcement lobby in Arizona is extremely powerful. I believe the volunteers and activists on the ground in Arizona were the difference between this billing passing and failing. There were a couple of times it looked dead. I can’t praise them enough for what they pulled off. It goes to show just how effective grassroots activism is at the state level.

Michael Maharrey [send him email] is the Communications Director for the Tenth Amendment Center, where this article first appeared. He proudly resides in the original home of the Principles of ’98 – Kentucky. See his blog archive here and his article archive here. He is the author of the book, Our Last Hope: Rediscovering the Lost Path to Liberty. You can visit his personal website at MichaelMaharrey.com and like him on Facebook HERE

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4 Comments on "New Arizona Law Takes on State, Federal Asset Forfeiture"

  1. Now if we can nullify Sessions’ version before he sends out ICE, CBP, TSA and DHS to rip off everything you have with you while driving the interstate. He doesn’t have to rely on State and Local police, he has his own corrupt army.

  2. Rev. Walking Turtle | August 12, 2017 at 2:05 pm | Reply

    “While the new law does not require a criminal conviction before proceeding with asset forfeiture, it takes a step toward reforming Arizona’s forfeiture laws under that essential standard.”

    Opinion: Those who oppose the Tenth Amendment’s clear requirement that guilt beyond a reasonable doubt MUST be established before any punitive action be undertaken by the State against the defendant MIGHT gain a modicum of Moral Benefit by dint of TREASON investigations being mounted against them forthwith – and ALL THEY OWN BE CONFISCATED IMMEDIATELY UPON ACCUSATION.

    But that would now only be ALMOST illegal under the now-standing Arizona law. STILL unconstitutional imvho – but now in Arizona, only ALMOST Wrong. HM. (Grab fast, sell faster.)

    “While the reforms are modest in comparison with those under consideration in many states, law enforcement and prosecutors aggressively lobbied against the bill.”

    Empathy: But YOU would TOO, Gentle Civilian Reader, if YOUR Secondary Income Stream (in this case the “emoluments” derived from the grab itself PLUS all their liberal “Referral Fees”, better-known in the present instance as “kickbacks”) from the Feddies directly unto the colluding prosecutors were ever placed at risk of extinguishment! Oh the PAIN…

    Opinion: Since it is now illegal for prosecutors to do such a thing, any of ’em who are caught pulling a Fast One by that means should IMMEDIATELY suffer ASSET FORFEITURE themselves. EVERYTHING but the shirt on their back – and their BED. (Old Testament Justice. Tellingly, in the cultural sense, even the IRS allows the delinquent taxpayer’s BED to NOT be taken, fwiw.) All other furnishings of home and office alike to be SOLD OFF FORTHWITH, NEVER to be seen, enjoyed nor cherished again.

    Family pictures included. THEN we can put ’em to a FAIR trial! With a couple of DEAD HONEST prosecutors on the Jury of Peers. (teehee.)

    Yeah I know… Find me two of those and PROVE it be so. Oi veh gevult, such a TASK! Such a SWAMP! And that is all. 0{:-|o[

  3. is anyone remotely surprised that those who benefit financially from the THEFT of asset forfeiture “the police/prosecutors” are desperately trying to block this legislation??
    THIEVES ALWAYS WANT TO KEEP THEIR STOLEN PROPERTY!

  4. I live in one of Arizona’s corrupt police state shiteholes, and have personal experience with Police Theft a.k.a. civil asset forfeiture. What most of you don’t know is that “law enforcement” has mandatory reporting requirements for this activity, which they routinely disregard, so that even the minimal/sloppy oversight proivided by law is not conducted. Reports are not made in a timely manner at county level, and when the PD/Sheriff are reminded of their tardiness, they respond with “oh yeah, we’ll get around to it”, and that’s as far as it gets, so the county has nothing to report to state level. There’s a wide variation in the amount of theft from the citizenry, Mohave County is nowhere near the top but they’ve ripped about $3 million from people in the past 5 years. Lots more to say, particularly in the unlikely event you are able to sue them – at this point, you will meet their invisible army of belly-crawlers and thugs, a.k.a. known as extra-judicial assets. It’s called Police State America, and the population is divided into two camps – those who have been raped by them, and those who have not…..yet. And way too many of that second group play the fool thinking the guns won’t swivel around to them one day.

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