In a 9-4 bipartisan vote Tuesday, the Ohio House Judiciary Committee approved HB 347. The bill is sponsored by both Reps. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) and Thomas Brinkman (R-Mt. Lookout). This advancement is a major step in progress for civil asset forfeiture reform goals but, more importantly, for Ohioans.
FreedomWorks has been behind HB 347 every step of the way, including during its unveiling at the Ohio Statehouse and a hearing held by the Ohio House Judiciary, and praises Chairman Butler for pushing the bill forward to the House.
Civil asset forfeiture is the practice whereby law enforcement can seize property on the mere suspicion of criminal activity, without charging the owner of the confiscated property with an actual crime. This practice transforms innocent acts, such as carrying currency in cash form, into quasi-criminal deeds. As Americans, the concept of being “innocent until proven guilty” has been ingrained in us since grade school, but civil asset forfeiture turns that cornerstone tradition on its head by requiring citizens to prove their property’s innocence without a conviction of a crime.
The truly burdensome and unfortunate part of the entire experience is the struggle an innocent property owner must face to retrieve his or her property back. Despite a lack of evidence and a criminal conviction, a property owner is faced with the cost of hiring an attorney and various other legal fees. Additionally, the process from beginning to end can take over a year.
HB 347 would bring about much-needed civil asset forfeiture reforms. The bill would require a criminal conviction before property would be subject to forfeiture. It would also prohibit equitable sharing with the federal government on property that totals a value less than $25,000.
Other states like New Mexico and Montana have already implemented forfeiture reforms that eliminate the practice without a criminal conviction. In Ohio, 81 percent of Ohio citizens agree that the current laws require reforms, according to a survey conducted on behalf of the U.S. Justice Action Network.
The government should bear the burden of proof before seized property is forfeited to authorities. If federal laws fail Americans, passing legislation within the states to protect citizens’ basic property rights becomes especially crucial. Ohio legislators are now tasked with the duty to make the right decision and restore due process rights within the Buckeye state as HB 347 progresses forward to the full House.