Contradicting the testimony of officials from the Attorney General's office on forfeiture reform legislation, a new report shows that over 93% of all cash and property seized by civil asset forfeiture to the government from 2015-2016 were for low dollar amounts.

Asset Forfeiture Reform: State Data Contradicts Opposition from AG and Law Enforcement Agencies

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 29, 2018

Asset Seizures in Rhode Island Overwhelmingly Involve Smaller Dollar and Property Values

AG and other law enforcement agencies over-emphasize larger criminal enterprises as basis for their opposition

Providence, RI — Contradicting the testimony of officials from the Attorney General’s office and other state and local law enforcement agencies, a new report from the Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights using the State’s own data, shows that over 93% of all cash and property forfeited to the government from 2015-2016 were for low dollar amounts; not the higher-valued assets typical of ‘major criminal enterprises’, as is the basis of law enforcement’s opposition to proposed civil asset forfeiture reform legislation.

Seeking to lead the way for civil rights and responsible government, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity is seeking to advance 2018 legislation that would completely re-write the state’s asset seizure and forfeiture laws. The House bill, H7640, and the Senate bill, S2681, were heard in their respective Judiciary Committees in recent weeks. The legislation is a continuation of last year’s successful package of Justice Reinvestment Initiative reforms, which were passed and signed into state law.

“Today’s report from the Hopkins Center clearly supports our claim and directly refutes law enforcement’s argument,” said Mike Stenhouse. CEO for the Center, which has been long-time defenders of private property rights.

Unlike the “wealthy drug lords” and other “big fish” that were the focus of law enforcement’s opposition testimony, a report published earlier this year by the Center suggested that it may actually be low-income and minority communities – the “little fish” – who suffer disparate impacts from poorly written state forfeiture laws. The report also cited Rhode Island’s D minus grade in a recent Institute for Justice report for its weak civil forfeiture laws as a basis for completely re-writing this section of state law.

One such “little fish” victim in Rhode Island, as fully described in the written testimony by Michael DiLauro, Assistant Public Defender, was Domingo Grullon, who had about $2,000 seized by the government and, despite charges being dropped, was never able to successfully reclaim his cash because of the overly-complex burden placed on innocent property owners by current state law. The reform legislation requires a conviction before the government can maintain permanent possession of seized assets.

The legislation, co-written by the Center and the Hopkins Center, would reform Rhode Island’s asset forfeiture statutes and would:

  • Raise the bar for when government may seize property in the first place
  • Lower the bar by which innocent citizens can reclaim their property
  • Increase transparency so that public officials and citizens can provide appropriate oversight
  • Enhance administration to increase the credibility of law enforcement
  • Increase budget accountability to remove perverse incentives for seizure

The Center’s report, as well as additional related information, can be found on the Center’s website, here.

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