Forfeiture Reform Now in Senate

As reported last issue, on June 24, H.R. 1658 the Hyde/Conyers/Barr/Frank Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 375 to 48. Now the Senate will give H.R. 1658 consideration.

On July 21, the Senate Subcommittee on Criminal Justice Oversight stacked a hearing on "Oversight of Federal Asset Forfeiture: its Role in Fighting Crime" with law enforcement officers. The title of the hearing itself lent suspicion that the Senate may prove to be a difficult legislative battle for proponents of forfeiture reform and only two of the 9 scheduled witnesses chosen to testify were supporters of the House reforms: Sam Buffone of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and Roger Pilon, VP-Legal Affairs with the CATO Institute. Opponents titles ranged from "Deputy Attorney General" to "Fraternal Order of Police."

It was Sam Buffone of the NACDL who pointed out that "the issue before this Committee should not be the importance of asset forfeiture as an effective weapon to combat crime . . . Rather, the issue before this Committee should be whether current forfeiture law and practice adequately protects the rights of all Americans."

Richard Fiano, Chief of Operations of the DEA made the following statement, "Let me again emphasize that DEA's asset forfeiture actions all take place within a legal framework with built-in protections for the innocent. As the illustrations in my testimony show, we conduct asset seizures against real criminals, and these actions are a vital part of DEA's efforts to combat drug crime." But then Fiano went on to say, "On the other hand, we support reforming asset forfeiture law. The DEA is working with the Department of Justice and other Federal agencies to craft legislation which can strike a balance between the needs of law enforcement and the rights of innocent individuals."

What is it going to be Fiano? If you are so sure that the DEA's actions are within a legal framework with built in protections, then why did you go on to say that you support reform-reform that will strike a balance between needs of the police and innocent individuals?

Johnny Mack Brown, Sheriff of Greenville County, South Carolina bemoaned the provision of H.R. 1658 that would force law enforcement and prosecutors to prove their case by "clear and convincing evidence." He said that this was an "unreasonable high standard" and went on to ask, "Does it really make sense that the burden of proof to take property is higher than that required to take freedom?"

It is an honest question deserving of an honest lawful answer. Why is it that freedom can be taken away with such low standards of proof? Sadly, it is a question that victims of the drug war ask themselves everyday.

It was Johnny Hughes of the National Troopers Coalition who testified that, "Asset forfeiture laws allow state and local governments to seize the assets of convicted drug dealers." Johnny neglected to tell the committee that in over 85% of asset forfeiture cases, a criminal indictment is never made!

If you have Internet access you can read it for yourself at:

Perhaps it is time to let the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice Oversight know how you feel about asset forfeiture reform.

Their address is:

U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Criminal Justice Oversight
Room SD-157, Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Phone (202) 224 - 4135 Fax (202) 228 - 0463