The US Senate on March 27 approved legislation aimed at ending some of the abuses of federal power used to seize the cars, boats, houses, guns and other property the government alleges is linked to crime.
The voice vote in the Senate sends the asset forfeiture reform bill to the House where it has the backing of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-IL) as well as prominent Republicans and Democrats.
The aim of the legislation is to alter procedures that have resulted in the seizure of hundreds of millions of dollars in property, mainly from suspected drug traffickers, but also from innocent people who have lost their homes, cars and boats.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said the new bill will "protect the legitimate constitutional rights of American citizens while at the same time protecting this tremendous asset to law enforcement."
The legislation would shift the burden of proof in asset forfeiture cases from the property owner, where it now lies, to the government.
A House version of the bill that passed last June in a 375-48 roll-call vote stated that the government must have "clear and convincing evidence" that property is being used in an illegal act. That bi-partisan bill was originally co-sponsored by four unlikely allies: Hyde, plus Reps. Bob Barr (R-GA), John Conyers (D-MI) and Barney Frank (D-MA).
But the Administration said that set too high a bar for federal prosecutors, and some senators agreed. House and Senate lawmakers met with Attorney General Janet Reno a week before the Senate vote to work out a compromise that now states the government must make its case "by a preponderance of the evidence."
The bill also enables a judge to release property to the owner if continued government possession poses a substantial hardship, extends the time a property owner has to challenge a seizure in court, and ends the requirement that a person seeking to recover property post a bond with the court.
The bill is supported by a broad range of groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun organizations as well as the American Bar Association.
During the Senate Judiciary Committees March 24 mark-up session on the bill Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) recalled a 1989 case in his state where federal marshals seized the family home and 49 surrounding acres of a man who, without his wifes knowledge, had pleaded guilty to growing six marijuana plants. He said that after people in the state protested the man got his property back.
Return to Archive Index