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Many states are awakening to infringements on liberty being committed through civil asset forfeiture, and Nebraska could become the latest to protect the rights of its citizens.
State Senator Tommy Garrett has introduced Legislative Bill 1106 to safeguard innocent people from illegal seizures and to guarantee that local law enforcement agencies respect constitutional rights when addressing crime. In his statement of intent, Senator Garrett noted that the bill will ensure the asset forfeiture is “limited to cases where the property owner has been convicted of one of the eligible crimes”. This, along with several other measures, makes Garrett’s bill a strong step in the right direction.
As previously noted, one of the primary features of the bill is the requirement of a conviction prior to seizure of property by law enforcement. Rather than just seizing property based on suspicion, law enforcement agencies would first have to secure a conviction of the person and indicate their intention to pursue forfeiture on the convicted. There would then be a court hearing regarding this forfeiture request, in which state and local officials must provide “clear and convincing evidence” that the property in question was directly involved in the crime (as is regularly noted in the bill, the mere presence of a large amount of money is not sufficient). If there is no such evidence, the property would be returned to its owner.
Throughout the entire process, records would be kept to document each step along the process to secure legal forfeiture. These records would be sent to the courts and better allow for transparency and accountability to be maintained. A major issue with civil asset forfeiture is the lack of accountability on law enforcement to only pursue legal efforts, and these measures will be extremely valuable in curbing abuses of power and infringements on civil liberties.
Senator Garrett’s bill provides a strong framework for robust civil asset forfeiture reform in Nebraska, and people are noticing. Already, many groups concerned with protecting civil liberties have come out to support the bill, such as the ACLU’s division in Nebraska and the Institute for Justice. In a significant act of unity and cooperation, the Nebraska State Patrol and Attorney General have also supported the bill, citing a desire to continue the fight against crime while also respecting the people’s constitutional rights. With such support, Nebraska may very well join the states that have championed the rights of the citizenry and pursued reform for civil asset forfeiture.