On Thursday, the Arizona House Government and Higher Education Committee, under the leadership of Rep. Bob Thorpe heard testimony on the issues surrounding civil asset forfeiture from experts across the political spectrum. The reports of abuse of Arizona’s RICO law by law enforcement agencies, led Thorpe to call for the hearing.
Representatives from the ACLU, Goldwater Institute and the Institute for Justice welcomed the opportunity to discuss the law which they claim is in need of serious reform.
A.R.S. § 13-2314, Arizona’s RICO law allows civil asset forfeiture. While there are protections for those whose property is seized, as Thorpe’s panel heard, far too often those protections are disregarded by law enforcement. The RICO legislation allows law enforcement on both the state and federal level to seize a citizen’s property without having to charge them for a crime.
Paul Avelar, an attorney in the Institute for Justice’s Arizona office, began the testimony:
“It’s unfortunate that asset forfeiture, a very effective and constitutional law enforcement tool, continues to come under attack,” said Aaron Ludwig, an expert on racketeering and forfeiture. “Legitimate concerns were raised, and I look forward to helping the committee better understand the truth about asset forfeiture and doing what I can to strengthen public policy if and when needed.”
Thorpe and his seatmate Sen. Sylvia Allen have sought to pass legislation that would create an official study committee on the subject, but have been met with push back from the sheriffs, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials across the state.
On the James T. Harris radio show, Thorpe described the pushback he and Allen encountered when she proposed her study committee bill. “What she suggested seems pretty uncontroversial. She took one of my bills and struck it to create a study committee. The law enforcement and prosecutors came out in force to kill the study committee.” Thorpe said the petty arguments made in opposition to the bill earlier this month made him angry. He told Harris that one opponent argued that “we shouldn’t have this,” referring to the bill, “unless everything is defined and I thought give me a break. So I got up to testify and said this is a nationwide problem and I want to protect people who do not fall into the category of a drug dealer or cartel member or a racketeer. Those folks need to be convicted if their property can be taken from them.”