Changes Proposed to Ohio’s Civil Asset Forfeiture Process

Posted on:

< < Back to

Columbus—A proposed bill would require a conviction in order for Ohio’s government to withhold someone’s property suspected to be involved in criminal activity.   The bill, introduced by State Representative Robert McColley, would reform Ohio’s process of Civil Asset Forfeiture.

Civil Asset Forfeiture gives law enforcement the ability to take someone’s assets if that person is suspected of a crime.   This can include items such as cars, cash and even houses.

In Ohio, more than $80 million worth of people’s assets were seized using civil forfeiture within the last decade, according to Holly Harris with the Justice Action Network.

“We know where those assets are going. We know how much is taken but we don’t know whether these assets that are taken are ever connected to a criminal conviction,” Harris said.

The current process allows law enforcement to seize property without ever charging someone with a crime. It does not require assets be seized through criminal proceedings and places the burden of proof on the property owner.

The proposed bill would require forfeitures to be processed through criminal proceedings and would place the burden of proof on the state instead of the person. It would not effect how law enforcement seizes property. Seizure is the initial taking by a law enforcement officer of someone’s property on the belief that it is evidence from a crime.

“What we are changing is what happens once the property gets back into our justice system. We are requiring that in order for property to be held during the course of the criminal proceeding, the state must demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the property is subject to forfeiture,” Rep. McColley said.

Once the criminal proceeding has concluded, the state must present clear and convincing evidence that the property is subject to forfeiture in order to get a permanent transfer of title.

Supporters say this reform will restore the due process and protect the rights of innocent property owners.

“Asset forfeiture runs counter to many of our most precious rights,” Mike Brickner, Senior Policy Director with ACLU of Ohio, said. “By reforming these laws, we will better strengthen police-community relations and ensure that assets are not unfairly taken away from people, prolonging cycles of poverty that plague these communities.”

Opponents say Ohio’s statutes are do not need to be changed. John Murphy, Executive Director of Ohio Prosecuting Attorney Association believed the proposal is “short sided” and does not take into account the true function of civil forfeiture.

“We don’t know who to prosecute or even if we do, but don’t have a strong case against them, we have to return the property to them, I presume, which could be returning criminal property to the guy who derived it by committing crimes,” Murphy said.

Ohio is currently one of three states (along with Michigan and Pennsylvania) with bills working to reform the state’s process of civil forfeiture.