Lawmakers hope to reform civil forfeiture laws

Posted By: Sarah Fili

Civil forfeitures are when money or assets are taken by law enforcement-usually from people who have committed a crime. But the process is muddy. Lawmakers are hoping to clear it up through new legislation. Senators at the State Capitol heard testimony Wednesday about Nebraska’s civil forfeitures system. As it is right now, law enforcement can legally take money or assets from an individual if they think it was involved in criminal activity. The problem? What if it wasn’t?

"[In cases of some of these clients] They have been stopped in a routine traffic stop by law enforcement, they’ve identified that they have a large amount to cash and that has become inherently suspicious,” Amy Miller, Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said.

"Between 2012 and 2014 43 million dollars was fore fitted. I have no problem with that however what I have a problem with is that 16 million of that was fore fitted without a criminal conviction,” Senator Tommy Garrett said.

Senator Garrett introduced the bill, which aims to cut down on the seizure of money or assets from people who were not convicted of any crimes. The ACLU says in many cases, the victim never gets the money back. Another bill Garrett introduced, which ties into the civil forfeitures bill, wants to increase transparency of the money once it’s been seized- where it came from, why it was taken, and where it’s going. Defense attorneys in Nebraska stand against the bills, saying for those who are convicted of a crime- seizing their assets is too much. They believe the system should be done away with altogether.

"If we want to talk about protecting the public we have incarceration, probation, and fines. So if the legislature wants to further penalize people monetarily they can do so through fines. To take people’s properties after they’ve already been convicted of a crime is essentially doubling up on penalty,” Justin Kalemkiarn, Nebraska Criminal Defense Attorney Association, said.

If these bills make it out of committee, it will head to discussion on the legislature floor.