It feels like there’s a growing concern around the country regarding the travesty of use of civil asset forfeiture to steal from citizens. We’re starting to see more states push back in their laws, and this has to be because a lot of people (including us) have educated the public about just how unjust this practice has become.
Here’s an editorial from Casper, Wyoming:
“Guilty until proven innocent” isn’t how the United States is supposed to work, but that’s the basis of Wyoming’s asset forfeiture law.
Currently, members of law enforcement can seize any property even when the owner hasn’t been convicted of anything. Simple suspicion is enough. If police think money, vehicles or guns are related to the drug trade, for example, they can confiscate those items. Then, owners must go to court and mount a defense to regain possession.
That’s backward. Suspicion of illegal activity simply doesn’t set the bar high enough. Of course, we have no problem with the state seizing the assets of someone convicted of a serious crime. But the conviction must come first. We must ensure our residents are granted due process – a fair trial – before the government takes anything.
That’s why we’re glad to see Wyoming lawmakers weighing two draft proposals. One would require a felony conviction, and the other would require “clear and convincing evidence” of illegal activity. The current situation is so wrongheaded that either would be an improvement, but we – along with anyone else who respects the rights and values on which our country was founded – would like to see the threshold raised to require a conviction.
Personally, I would add that the seized assets must not be used to enrich the agency or agencies involved in the seizing.