In a very polarized time, Arizona legislators found something most could agree on: reining in the use of asset forfeiture by law enforcement agencies. The House bill passed the Senate 28-1 to send it to Gov. Doug Ducey, who has since signed it. Arizonans will be better off for it, although seizure should still be an effective tool when it occurs together with a criminal conviction.
The concept certainly has been important in recent decades and has helped slow criminal activities. However, it has been abused when used against those not found guilty and sometimes their friends and relatives as well.
HB 2810, when it becomes effective in three months, will make many changes to civil forfeiture. Property must be returned to its owner within 10 business days unless it is being held for evidence or was illegal to possess. A conviction will be necessary in order to take it. The bill also makes it illegal to coerce people into signing over their property in the course of an investigation.
The main sponsor, Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, said he had been asked to make various changes that would have weakened the bill, but he refused. However, it is not retroactive and does not affect cases currently in litigation.
An attempt was made last year to pass this legislation, but the pandemic got in the way of legislative give and take, and it failed.
Civil forfeiture has been a crucial tool in fighting organized crime, including drug trafficking, and that should continue. And money and property seized have been used in the enforcement effort. However, it has been used too extensively where not appropriate. In some cases, rights of the innocent have not been protected.
Law enforcement will learn to operate under the new conditions. If there are problems, the Legislature should revisit the issue, and law enforcement officials no doubt will be quick to provide relevant information.
— Donovan Kramer Jr.