Thursday, January 29, 2015

Wyoming should pass asset forfeiture bill

SF14 is a bill that would prohibit law enforcement from seizing private property unless they are charged and convicted with a felony.  The Heritage Foundation’s web site defines civil asset forfeiture in this way:  “Civil asset forfeiture is a legal tool that allows law enforcement officials to seize property that they assert has been involved in certain criminal activity. In fact, the owner of the property doesn’t even need to be guilty of a crime:…….. This means that police can seize your car, home, money or valuables without ever having to charge you with a crime.”

Under existing statutes, law enforcement in Wyoming is currently allowed to and does seize private property if they allege it is even “intended” for use in certain crimes.  Once the property is seized individuals must hire an attorney and argue in court to get their own property back.  Often it is so expensive and burdensome to go through the court procedure that individuals simply forfeit their property.

In a state like Wyoming which places a high value on individual freedom and property rights, citizens would think that elected officials would be quick to support a bill that does away with the government taking of private property.  Not so, both the Governor’s office and the Attorney General argued for the continued practice of seizing private property with no filing of criminal charges.  The Attorney General argued that this is a powerful tool to use a deterrent to crime.  The taking of private property from citizens when there is insufficient evidence that a crime has been committed makes the protections of the Bill of Rights meaningless and the Wyoming Legislature should insure that private property rights are protected by passing SF14.

Linda Burt
Executive Director
ACLU of Wyoming

(As originally published in the Casper Star Tribune

Monday, January 26, 2015

Proposed legislation would hide environmental / animal abuse

In December of 2012 nine employees of a pig farm near Wheatland, Wyoming were charged with cruelty to animals after an undercover investigation by the Humane Society for the United States.  These workers were charged with cruelty to animals after a film showing them kicking, punching, throwing sick and baby pigs like soccer balls and punching lactating mother pigs with their fists.  It is also clear from the film that sick pigs were not only abused but did not receive medical care.

A bill currently being considered by the Wyoming legislature, SF12, would protect agri-businesses that abuse animals; break labor, or environmental laws by criminalizing investigators, whistleblowers or journalists that attempted to expose any type of abuse.  In the Platte County case the people punished would not have been the abusers, but the individuals that exposed the abuse.

Agribusinesses that are violating animal cruelty laws, food safety protections, environmental protections or labor laws not only get a free pass on their violations but under another bill filed, SF80, will be able to sue the whistleblowers for damages for “delay in business operations, cost of additional regulatory requirements or increased business expenses”.   

These bills seek to ensure that agribusiness will be able to carry on their business with no oversight from the public or the press and are the response to investigations that have found horrifying or dangerous practices on business property.

These bills are not about private property rights; the ACLU supports laws against trespass and Wyoming’s long history of private property protections.  These bills are not about property rights, these bills are about hiding abuse and environmental malfeasance; agriculture should not have special protections for misconduct.

Linda Burt
Executive Director
ACLU of Wyoming

(As originally run in the Casper Star Tribune and Wyoming Tribune Eagle on 1/25/15) 

It's time for Wyoming to get serious about marijuana policies

It’s time for Wyoming lawmakers to have a serious conversation about enacting sensible reforms when it comes to our state’s marijuana policies.

A great place to start is House Bill 0029, which would remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. This proposal would impose a civil, not criminal, penalty with a fine of up to $100 for a first or second offense. Reducing penalties for low-level marijuana possession would prevent thousands of people from becoming ensnared in the criminal justice system. Convictions for possessing even small amounts of marijuana can follow people throughout their lives. There are substantial long-term consequences to these charges, including potentially being disqualified from student financial-aid eligibility, loss of employment, veteran’s benefits, and incarceration. What we have now is a situation where the punishment simply doesn’t reflect the conduct. 

A recent survey conducted by the University of Wyoming found that 62 percent of Wyomingites surveyed believe the penalty for marijuana possession should not include jail time. Decriminalization policies keep people out of jail and would eliminate many of the collateral consequences that flow from marijuana arrests, thereby reducing the gross number of people entering the criminal justice system.

Decriminalization also makes fiscal sense. According to the Bureau of Justice and the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, Wyoming spent $9.1 million enforcing marijuana laws in 2010. That year, Wyoming made 2,254 total arrests for marijuana; 93 percent of those were for possession of a small amount, not for the manufacture or sale of marijuana.

Wyoming is surrounded by states that have enacted different types of reforms. Nebraska is one of 15 states that fine, instead of jail, individuals found in possession of small amounts of marijuana. Colorado and Washington are now joined by Alaska and Oregon in fully legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults. It’s time for Wyoming to pass practical reforms, too.

Ryan Frost
Program Coordinator
ACLU of Wyoming

(As originally run in the Casper Star Tribune and Wyoming Tribune Eagle on 1/18/15)