The Ohio House of Representatives approved a bill to reform when and how government law enforcement agencies can seize people’s private property.
In late May, the House approved House Bill 347, legislation that could limit civil asset forfeiture to cases in which the owner is unknown, deceased, or a criminally indicted individual whose whereabouts are unknown to the government.
Currently, Ohio law enforcement agencies can use the civil asset forfeiture process to seize private assets and property believed to have been used in the commission of a crime, without obtaining a criminal conviction.
‘Against the Most Basic Principle’
State Rep. Robert McColley (R-Napoleon) says the current system violates Ohioans’ property and due process rights.
“The current civil asset forfeiture law allows for the state to take a person’s property based upon the allegation of a crime [and] without ever charging that person with a crime,” McColley said. “The current system does not grant criminal due process to a person who has been alleged to have committed a crime. That goes against the most basic principle of our criminal justice system: that someone is innocent until proven guilty.”
Principles and Limitations
If passed into law, the bill would effectively prohibit civil asset forfeiture in cases where property is worth less than $25,000.
Daniel Dew, a criminal justice fellow at the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, says he disagrees with this compromise.
“The bill, as introduced, was based on the principle that the government should have to convict you of a crime to take your property,” Dew said. “Obviously, the $25,000 threshold strays from that principle.”
Dew says the compromise seems to have been political in nature.
“Limitations of principles only make sense when they are protecting other rights,” Dew said. “For example, the First Amendment protects a person’s freedom of religion, but it does not guarantee someone the right to perform human sacrifice, even if done in the name of religion. The limiting principle is that a person’s exercise of religion cannot harm another. In this case, the $25,000 threshold is based on a compromise of principle rather than a limiting principle.”
Dew says lawmakers should protect everyone’s property and not limit the amount to be protected.
“Hopefully, when the Ohio Senate takes up the bill in November, it will amend the bill so that all Ohioans are protected, regardless of the value of their property,” Dew said.
Matt Hurley ([email protected]) writes from Cincinnati, Ohio.
David Benjamin Ross, “Civil Forfeiture: A Fiction That Offends Due Process,” Regent University Law Review, September 1, 2000: https://heartland.org/policy-documents/civil-forfeiture-fiction-offends-due-process/