Arizona House Advances Landmark Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

justice money

Former Arizona State Rep. Bob Thorpe fought for years against the most powerful law enforcement agencies in the state in an effort to reform Arizona’s civil asset forfeiture law. Every step of the way the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and various county attorneys threw roadblocks in the way in order to preserve one of their favorite funding sources.

Finally on Wednesday, House Bill 2810, considered landmark legislation that would reform the state’s Civil Asset Forfeiture (CAF) law, passed overwhelmingly out of the Arizona House.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Travis Grantham, and written by former State Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, will significantly strengthen innocent Arizonans’ due process and property rights.

The bill requires law enforcement to secure a criminal conviction before an individual’s property may be forfeited under the state’s civil asset forfeiture law. Currently, law enforcement may seize and keep property from individuals that are never charged or convicted of a criminal offense.

“Today, the House voted to strengthen due process and property rights of innocent Arizonans,” said Lauren Krisai, Senior Policy Analyst for Justice Action Network. “House Bill 2810 ensures that law enforcement cannot permanently take property from innocent Arizonans never charged or convicted of a crime—an egregious process that has gone on for far too long in the state. We thank Representative Grantham for authoring this bill, and members of the House for coming together to protect the property and due process rights of all Arizonans. We hope this bipartisan consensus will carry through to the Senate.”

“Civil Asset Forfeiture is referred to as “policing for profit,” said Thorpe. “County attorneys and even our very own State Attorney General, rely on CAF proceeds to backfill their budgets, and allow for spending that may not relate to law enforcement activities. Often targeted citizens cannot afford council, and because they are prosecuted in civil court, not criminal court, these citizens cannot request a public defender and are forced to try and navigate the complex legal system by themselves. I’m pleased that HB2810 is moving forward, Arizona needs to follow the lead of states like New Mexico, that reformed its Civil Asset Forfeiture, which is now considered the gold standard.”

Currently, Arizona police are under no obligation to return property seized from someone suspected or accused of a crime, regardless of whether a conviction is obtained. In 2018, 54% of all forfeitures in Arizona were not tied to a criminal conviction. To address this critical issue, House Bill 2810:

  • Requires a criminal conviction before most forfeitures may take place;
  • Ensures that seized property is linked to a suspected crime;
  • Requires law enforcement to return seized property in a timely manner if they decide not to pursue criminal charges or lose the case in court;
  • Strengthens innocent owner protections by requiring the state to prove that the property is linked to a crime, and return property if it is not. Current law requires innocent owners to prove that their seized property *is not* connected to a crime.
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