Asset Forfeiture Reform Advances
Press Release: Asset Forfeiture Reform Advances
Denver -- The state house voted 51 to 11 today in favor of HB 1404, the asset forfeiture reform bill sponsored by Rep. Shawn Mitchell. The bill now heads to the senate, where Sen. Bill Thiebaut takes the lead.
Mitchell's bill withstood several amendments yesterday that would have weakened its reforms. Several more technical amendments were adopted, but the major provisions of the bill remain intact. 1404 has three main goals, as described by Rep. Mitchell.
1. The bill requires that an owner be convicted of a crime in most cases before the government can forfeit his or her property. The main exceptions are if a person is a fugitive from justice or if an owner knowingly allows criminal activity to continue on his or her property. Innocent third-party owners would gain new protections under the bill.
2. 1404 requires in every case that the government prove by the higher standard of "clear and convincing evidence" that the property should be forfeited.
3. The bill seeks to remove the appearance of impropriety because under current law the forfeiting agency also keeps the proceeds of forfeiture. Instead, the proceeds of forfeiture would first pay off lien holders, innocent co-owners, and victims. Then 50% of the money would go to the general fund of the local government where the forfeiture took place, and 50% would go to treat substance abuse.
The bill seeks to protect rights of due process, protect innocent property owners, and send the proceeds of forfeiture through a more appropriate budgeting process, while at the same time allowing law enforcement to deprive criminals of their ill-gotten gains and property used to commit crimes. Similar reforms have recently been enacted in New Mexico, Utah, Oregon, and Missouri.