The Ohio House of Representatives yesterday passed legislation that reins in the use of civil asset forfeiture, a judicial process by which the government can take a person’s property based on the allegation of its involvement in a crime without ever charging the individual with a crime.
Sponsored by Reps. Robert McColley (R-Napoleon) and Tom Brinkman (R-Mt. Lookout), Substitute House Bill 347 limits forfeiture to situations in which 1.) seized property is unclaimed; 2.) the property owner is deceased; or 3.) the property owner has been indicted for a felony and is unable to be brought to justice.
“I am glad to see this much needed legislation pass out of the Ohio House,” Rep. McColley said. “The presumption of innocence against allegations of a crime and personal property rights are some of the bedrock principles of our country. This legislation tilts the scales back in favor of Ohio citizens.”
The bill also narrows the use of a federal program in which forfeited assets are shared between state and federal law enforcement authorities. The legislation also limits law enforcement agencies of the state or its political subdivision’s involvement in the US Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program, which has individuals’ properties forfeited with very little due process. Under HB 347, this program can only be utilized for property valued at more than $100,000, greatly reducing a practice that is often used by law enforcement.
Finally, HB 347 includes various safeguards that strike a balance between curbing cases in which property is forfeited without a conviction and maintaining law enforcement’s tools in cases where criminal activity is evident, but conviction is not possible. For example, one provision contained in the bill allows the state to file an action against a person alleged to have proceeds exceeding $25,000 derived from drug or human trafficking or a theft offense.
The bill now awaits consideration in the Ohio Senate.