Some good news for a change
In a marginal victory for property rights, the state of Utah recently enacted legislation that allows persons acquitted of a crime to reclaim property seized through civil asset forfeiture. SB87 ensures that no defendant acquitted in criminal court can have their property permanently taken in civil court. SB87 also mandates that law enforcement must return property valued under $10,000 to claimants unless prosecutors file criminal charges within 60 days of filing a forfeiture complaint. Before SB87 was signed into law, the two different legal tracks meant that a defendant was presumed innocent in criminal proceedings, but presumed guilty in the civil proceedings, which sometimes meant defendants found not guilty in criminal court could still be punished for a crime they did not commit. Most cash forfeitures were under $1,324 and out of the 393 Utah forfeiture cases that occurred in 2015 only 6% of them (24) resulted in a criminal conviction, a criminal forfeiture proceeding, or a guilty plea. In conjunction with SB87, the Utah legislature also passed SB70 which requires law enforcement agencies to report if any criminal charges are filed and if they result in a conviction or acquittal whenever they use civil forfeiture. The new statute further requires law enforcement to estimate the value of the property they take and the agencies cost for storing the property and litigating the forfeiture claim. This kind of transparency could pave the way for further restraints on the use of civil forfeiture and perhaps it will eventually be abolished except in cases where a person is convicted of a crime.