On January 4, Ohio’s governor John Kasich signed HB 347 into law, making Ohio one of only 11 other states to create laws cracking down on civil asset forfeiture. Along with a handful of regulations, the law will now require any properties valued under $15,000 to require a criminal conviction before a civil forfeiture may take place.
Introduced in September 2015 by state reps. Robert McColley and Tom Brinkman, the bill hopes to massively curb the incentive for “policing for profit” behavior. Back in 2010, Ohio received a “C-“ grade when reviewed for policing for-profit tendencies by the Institute for Justice. A member of the Institute’s counsel, Lee McGrath, said in a statement that “civil forfeiture is one of the most serious assaults on due process and private property rights in the United States today,” and that “Ohio’s new law should protect many from this abuse of power.”
Although only 3 states received higher grades in the study, data shows that the majority of Ohioans, regardless of party affiliation, favor forfeiture reform. A poll done in Ohio by Fix Forfeiture found that 83% of Republicans and 87% of Democrats favored reforms regarding civil forfeiture laws.
Along with requiring a criminal conviction, the law also modifies the requirements for proof. It will change the level of proof needed in civil proceedings to be “clear and convincing,” up from the previous level of “preponderance of the evidence.” State reps hope this will rightfully shift the burden from the property owners proving their innocence and onto the state. State senator Kris Jordan said on the Senate floor that while completely abolishing civil forfeiture would be “ideal” this bill does “move us in the right direction.”
In addition to the other reforms in the bill, Ohio lawmakers made sure to close a loophole done through “equitable sharing.” Under this guise, local or state agencies can keep up to 80% of forfeited property by collaborating with a federal agency. Through this practice, Ohio law enforcement received more than $140 million between 2000 and 2013. In that same time span, Ohio seized cash from people without ever charging them with a crime more than 1,900 times. Most of which goes towards law enforcement salaries, covering overtime expenses, and funding recreational upgrades.
With the new law, however, law enforcement can no longer transfer seized property to a federal agency for any property valued less than $100,000. Which will strike a large blow to seizures since, according to The Washington Post, out of all cases where police seized cash and did not file charges, half of the seizures were below $8,800.
While this is surely a victory for Ohio, there seems to be a growing national movement towards the abolition of civil asset forfeiture. Hopefully this is trend we see more often as even more states follow suit in protecting its citizens’ rights from unlawful behavior.
Thomas J. Eckert
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