Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has signed a bill that will limit civil asset forfeiture as part of law enforcement activities. House Bill 2477, which passed with nearly unanimous support in both the House and the Senate, increases the burden of proof needed in cases of civil asset forfeiture. The bill also changes the rules on how the funds or other assets that are taken from individuals can be used.
The bill had strong support from legislators in both parties as well as conservative and progressive groups that advocate for individuals rights including the ACLU. Critics of the bill did try to sway policymakers, however, providing comment and testimony in support of civil asset forfeiture for its benefits to law enforcement organizations.
Representative Eddie Farnsworth, the sponsor of the bill, told the Arizona Republic that the measure was designed to prevent abuses. The same article noted that law enforcement in Arizona collected $200 million in assets from individuals over the past five years, but lax oversight has made it difficult to track how that money was used. Federal authorities have also recently launched a probe into the Pima County Sheriff’s office use of forfeited funds.
In a statement on the bill’s signing, Governor Ducey said – “Reforms have been needed in this area for some time. As public servants, we are entrusted with not only protecting public safety, but also the rights guaranteed to every citizen of this great state and nation. Today’s important legislation strikes an appropriate balance between enabling law enforcement to do their jobs while upholding civil liberties.”
Iowa and Illinois have also started looking at changes to civil asset forfeiture laws. Like the Arizona bill, both measures are designed to increase the burden of proof needed to seize someone’s assets as part of law enforcement activity. Law enforcement in both states will also need to maintain more detailed records of what was taken and how it was used.