Nebraska Considers Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

Published March 16, 2016

A Nebraska state senator has proposed a pair of bills that would protect citizens’ property from unjustified confiscation and require law enforcement agents to file a report when they take private property believed to have been used in criminal activity.

Currently, Nebraska law enforcement agencies can use a process called civil asset forfeiture to seize private property believed to have been used in the commission of a crime, even if no criminal conviction has occurred.

‘Infringes on Due Process’

State Sen. Tommy Garrett (R-Bellevue) is the sponsor of Legislative Bills 1106 and 1108, both of which are now under consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee. If passed by the state’s unicameral legislature and signed into law, LB 1106 would reform state laws to require proof a crime has been committed before the government may seize people’s cash or other property.

LB 1108 would require law enforcement agents to categorize and track forfeited assets and report all forfeitures to the state auditor.

Garrett says the government should be held to a higher standard of proof than is currently required under the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws.

“I think civil asset forfeiture should be halted and replaced with a criminal forfeiture system,” Garrett said. “The current system here in Nebraska allows 35–40 percent of all forfeitures to take place without a criminal citation or conviction. I believe this infringes on due process and the rule of law. I believe the deck is currently stacked against Nebraska’s property owners, and [I] want to ensure that we instead stack the deck against the state.”

Deterring Against Improper Seizure

Garrett says his bill requires law enforcement agents to obtain a criminal conviction before property can be forfeited.

“LB 1106 abolishes the practice of civil forfeiture against the individual and creates a criminal forfeiture process,” Garrett said. “This deters law enforcement from taking property from innocent owners who have not committed a crime and allows those who have had their assets seized the ability to have legal counsel, even if they cannot afford it.”

Garrett says his bill ensures government uses police to maintain order and not to fill the public coffers.

“We need to ensure that government doesn’t circumvent the rule of law to plunder,” Garrett said. “It should not be easy for government to take from its citizens. We must require criminal convictions first, then it must be proven that the seized asset was used in or gained from the criminal act.”

Expects Bipartisan Support

Doug Kagan, president of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom, an independent grassroots taxpayer organization, says the bills would make common-sense reforms to the state’s criminal justice laws.

“This bill does not seem to have caused a liberal-conservative split among senators,” Kagan said. “I would guess that it may pass, unless law enforcement agencies lobby hard, as they profit from asset forfeiture.”

Kagan says if the bill passes and is signed into law, the state’s justice system will not be as stacked against taxpayers as it is now.

“The current statute presumes guilt, whereas our justice system presumes innocence until proven guilty,” Kagan said. “If judged guilty, an individual may [be forced to] forfeit property or cash only if strong evidence is provided. Thus, innocent people can retrieve their property in an expedited manner.”

Matt Hurley ([email protected]) writes from Cincinnati, Ohio.