Over the past year, the practice of civil asset forfeiture has come under increased scrutiny both here in Ohio and nationally. Now it looks like the Ohio legislature may consider reforms to the way it is practiced in Ohio. A bill proposed by a coalition of Ohio state legislators would make the practice illegal in the state unless the owner is convicted.
What is Civil Asset Forfeiture?
Civil asset forfeiture is a practice by which law enforcement confiscates property alleged to have some connection to criminal activity — even when the owner is not suspected of a crime. For example, a Pennsylvania case made national headlines when authorities wanted to take a couple’s home because their son was suspected of drug dealing. The homeowners were not suspected of any crime, but because a crime allegedly had happened in their home, the state wanted to seize it.
When the government wants to take property through civil asset forfeiture, a lawsuit is filed against the piece of property itself and not against the person who owns it. Further, the piece of property is “guilty” of being connected to a crime until proven innocent — a reversal of the standard in a criminal case against a person.
This results in the confiscation of property from people innocent of any crimes, and who are never charged with any supposed crime related to the property. Even worse, people attempting to recover their legitimate property must prove that the property has no connection to a crime, contrary to the underpinnings of our legal system.
What Would This Bill Change?
Under HB 347, the bill to reform civil asset forfeiture in Ohio proposed by Reps. Rob McColley, a Republican from Napoleon, and Thomas Brinkman, a Republican from here in Cincinnati, assets could not be taken by police unless the owner or possessor is convicted of a crime.
Supporters of the bill say that it would reinstate due process and protect the innocent from having their property taken without reason. Furthermore, they say it would eliminate the motivation of law enforcement to “police for profit” or even take the easy way out in drug cases by passing off charges to other agencies or neglecting to make a strong case.
Opponents of the bill see it differently. They warn that HB 347 could allow criminals to keep money and assets gained illegally. Others maintain that there has been no evidence yet uncovered of police abuse of civil asset forfeiture here in Ohio — although some say this is only because police conduct such seizures in secrecy.
Contact a Cincinnati Criminal Defense Attorney For Help
Regardless of whether or not this bill is passed, it is clear that some reform of civil asset forfeiture practices is needed. In the meantime, people accused of any crime — even informally — can find themselves in a battle to get their property back.
If you have had property seized in Ohio for allegations that your property was connected to illegal activity, you may have options for getting your property back with the help of an experienced Cincinnati criminal defense attorney. If you’ve been charged with a crime, an attorney can discuss your options for fighting the charge.
Call the dedicated criminal defense lawyers at Luftman, Heck, & Associates at any time at (513) 338-1890 for a free consultation to discuss your case and learn how we can help you.