Civil Asset Forfeiture — yes, this is usually a far right and libertarian topic and an issue Democrats traditionally resist. But today we want everyone to get on board with supporting HB 19: Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Amendments. Here’s why:
- Laws regarding civil asset forfeiture in Utah are very loose, allowing the government to seize and keep your property if they suspect you are engaged in a crime. They don’t need to actually CHARGE you with a crime. The legal and financial burden is currently on YOU to prove that you should be able to get your property back.
- Civil asset forfeiture was originally designed to help law enforcement break up large-scale criminal enterprises and to prevent high-level criminals from profiting off criminal behavior. However, required reporting has revealed that most property seized in our state is NOT from large-scale criminal enterprises. Rather, the most common seizure is of CASH of an average value of around $1,300. This could be cash a person is carrying to purchase a couch of Craig’s List, or a gift for a bride & groom.
- In the VAST majority of cases – more than 90% – no criminal charges are ever filed. The government keeps the seized property by default.
- Civil asset forfeiture is a practice that most negatively impacts already vulnerable communities — especially where people are more likely, for a variety of reasons, to carry cash in quantities that are seen as “suspicious.” For example, many refugee and immigrant communities rely more on cash transactions, as well as historically marginalized communities of color where individuals have less reason to put their faith in financial institutions.
HB19 seeks to change this. The bill will require that criminal charges actually be filed in order for the government to keep your property. It will also require a clearer connection between the seized property and the alleged crime and make it easier for regular people to get their property back.
PLEASE NOTE: There is a second asset forfeiture reform bill, SB87, sponsored by Sen. Dan Thatcher. This bill isn’t terrible, but HB19 goes much further to protect the rights of property owners from government seizure.
CALL TO ACTION
Because civil asset forfeiture has traditionally been a partisan issue, we need your help contacting not only the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who will hear this bill soon in the Senate, but specifically the Democratic members of this committee, Senator Escamilla and Senator Davis, who killed this bill in committee last year. In addition, we want to reach out to the committee Chair, Senator Weiler, who is already in favor of this bill, to ask him to favor HB 19 over the competing SB 87.
- Email the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to ask them to support HB 19: Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Amendments. Be sure to mention if you are a constituent!
- Constituents of District 1 / Senator Escamilla – please write a special email to your state senator, Sen. Escamilla, asking her to support this bill.
- Constituents of District 3 / Senator Davis – please write a special email to your state senator, Sen. Davis, asking him to support this bill.
- Constituents of District 23 / Senator Weiler – please write a special email to your state senator, Sen. Weiler, asking him to support this bill.
- All others – please reach out to constituents of the above districts to ask them to email their state senator to support HB 19!
Senate Judiciary Committee email addresses: