State House passes Shea’s civil asset forfeiture reform bill
'This is, first and foremost, about protecting the right to due process,' says Shea
Under legislation passed by the state House of Representatives today, Washington could potentially join other states around the nation in reforming antiquated and often misused civil asset forfeiture laws.
Civil asset forfeiture is allowed under certain circumstances by law enforcement. It involves the taking of property used in a crime or purchased from criminal proceeds. However, the process can be abused and it is often difficult, if not impossible, for a person to get property returned to them even when not convicted of a crime.
“This is, first and foremost, about protecting the right to due process,” said Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley and sponsor of the legislation. “It's a right found in our United States Constitution; but one that continues to be eroded. We need to fight for and protect that right while protecting innocent private property owners.”
Shea's bill, House Bill 2718, would reform civil asset forfeiture in the state by:
- explicitly providing that the burden of proof is on the seizing agency;
- allowing prevailing claimants to recover attorney's fees;
- requiring that, when ordered to return property, the seizing agency return it in the same or substantially similar condition as when seized; and
- making all seizing agencies subject to detailed reporting requirements.
Shea said that during committee testimony it was revealed that three states have completely abolished civil asset forfeiture and another 25 have implemented some type of reform.
“As more and more light is shed on the past and current abuses of this practice, more freedom-loving lawmakers are taking a stand,” said Shea. “I'm very pleased Washington state has joined this growing trend. As legislators we take an oath to uphold the state and federal constitutions and should always be looking at laws through that lens.”
House Bill 2718 passed the House 95-3 and now moves to the Senate for further consideration.
The 60-day 2018 legislative session is scheduled to end March 8.
###Washington State House Republican Communications