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