Ohio Lawmakers Approve Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

Published December 19, 2016

Ohio lawmakers approved a bill restricting local and state government police agencies’ ability to take ownership of and profit from citizens’ property taken without a criminal conviction.

In December 2016, the Ohio Senate approved House Bill 347 (HB 347) restricting the use of civil asset forfeiture by government law enforcement agencies.

Previously, Ohio police could use the civil asset forfeiture process to take private assets and property believed to have been used in the commission of a crime, without obtaining a criminal conviction.

If signed by Gov. John Kasich (R), the law will require local and state police to obtain a criminal conviction before ownership of individuals’ assets and property worth up to $15,000 can be transferred to the government. Property worth more than $15,000 can still be forfeited using the civil asset forfeiture process.

‘Restoring the Balance’

State Rep. Robert McColley (R-Napoleon), sponsor of the bill, says it fixes an unfair aspect of the legal system.

“We are restoring the balance and the fairness and the equity to the civil forfeiture system,” McColley said. “The current law is tilted in favor of the state. It’s unfair, it’s inequitable.”

Diverse Team of Supporters

Holly Harris, executive director of U.S. Justice Action Network, a national, nonpartisan nonprofit organization focusing on criminal justice reform, says HB 347 was a bipartisan effort.

“In Ohio, you saw the Buckeye Institute working with the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] of Ohio on this legislation, and Republican lawmakers like Rep. Rob McColley working with Democratic lawmakers like Sen. Cecil Thomas,” Harris said.

Harris says civil asset forfeiture laws stack the deck against citizens and for the government.

“Civil asset forfeiture is arbitrary, often unfair, and puts an unreasonable burden on the property owner who has his or her property seized,” Harris said.