For those of you who don’t know what civil asset forfeiture, it’s essentially a process whereby law enforcement can take property – money, cars, houses, etc. – they feel was used in a crime and keep it regardless of whether or not you’re actually convicted or even charged with anything.
Law enforcement literally gets to keep the proceeds from whatever property they seize.
HB1170, introduced by Rep. Rick Becker (R-Bismarck), would have restricted that process here in North Dakota by making several changes to the law. Notably it would have prohibited the forfeiture of property in the absence of a guilty verdict for the property’s owner. It would also have required any revenues from forfeited property go into the state’s general fund instead of to law enforcement.
But I’m talking about this legislation in the past tense because in the Senate today it went down in flames. It passed in the House back in February on a 50-42 vote, but in the Senate today it got not a single “yes” vote.
It failed on a 0-46 vote.
Bill carrier Senator Diane Larson (R-Bismarck) pointed out that the supporters of the legislation acknowledged during committee testimony that North Dakota officials are actually pretty good about not abusing forfeiture, which is true. She also pointed out that Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem testified against the legislation also citing that lack of abuse.
But so what? When it comes to property rights, I don’t think we should have to wait around for the government to start abusing us before we put in place protections.
Larson also listed a bunch of technical issues with the bill, some legitimate others exaggerated, which all sounds like the sort of stuff which could have been fixed by a well-crafted amendment. But instead the Senate killed the bill, choosing instead for North Dakotans to have zero protections against civil asset forfeiture.