FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 15, 2018
Asset Forfeiture Reform: Leading the Way for Civil Rights and Responsible Government
Continuation of Successful 2017 Justice Reinvestment Reforms
Providence, RI — Seeking to lead the way for civil rights and responsible government, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity published a new report today ahead of a hearing this afternoon on its legislation that would protect citizens against unjust governmental seizure of their private property.
The House bill, H7640, will be heard today in Room 101 in the Judiciary Committee. The Senate bill, S2681, was heard last month.
“Last year, our Center was proud to join the coalition that saw passage into law of a package of Justice Reinvestment reforms,” commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “This year, this asset forfeiture legislation is a continuation of that bi-partisan initiative.”
The report features research indicating that low-income and minority communities suffer a disparate impacts from poorly written state forfeiture laws. One such victim in Rhode Island, as fully described in the written testimony by Michael DiLauro, Assistant Public Defender, was Domingo Grullon, who had over $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. The reform legislation requires a conviction before the government can maintain permanent possession of seized assets. In many cases, “hardships are visited upon those who have done nothing wrong in the eyes of the law,” wrote DiLauro.
Long-time defenders of private property rights, the Center cited Rhode Island’s D- 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.
At the Senate hearing, as has been the case in the many other state where similar legislation has been passed, a broad and bi-partisan coalition came together in support of the recommended reforms. The RI ACLU, the RI Public Defender’s Office, and Occupy Providence, all center or left leaning organizations, joined with the center-right Center and the Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights. Additionally, the bi-partisan RI Families Coalition supports the reforms.
Last month, the Center published a one-page overview of the legislation, which includes a statement of need. Building off the successful “Justice Reinvestment” reforms that were enacted in by Rhode Island lawmakers in 2017, the state’s asset forfeiture laws should next come under scrutiny, as they can often lead to the unfettered government seizure of cars, cash, and other private property.
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