The New Hampshire House of Representatives passed a bill last week to limit the profit motive in civil forfeiture. Money from the state’s drug forfeiture fund instead would be moved to the state’s general fund. Currently, up to 90 percent of forfeiture proceeds can go to New Hampshire law enforcement, creating an incentive for police and prosecutors to take money and property. If the bill is enacted, New Hampshire would join just seven other states and the District of Columbia in banning police from self-financing through forfeiture.
A recent report by the Institute for Justice, Policing for Profit, found that New Hampshire agencies have collected more than $1.15 million in forfeiture proceeds under state law since 1999. That same report also gave New Hampshire a D- for its civil forfeiture laws, calling them “a threat to property owners.”
To better protect property rights, the reform bill, HB 636, would generally require a criminal conviction or a plea agreement as a prerequisite to forfeit property. The bill would also place the burden of proof onto the state, rather than innocent, third-party owners, meaning residents would no longer have to prove their innocence to win back their seized property. Finally, HB 636 would raise the standard of proof to “clear and convincing evidence.”
The bill now has to make it past the State Senate and Gov. Maggie Hassan, who has threatened to veto. IJ Attorney Rob Peccola says the bill provides important protections for property and due process rights in New Hampshire, and that the Senate should follow the House’s lead:
“Law enforcement keeping forfeiture proceeds undermines the role of the legislature in setting the state’s priorities. No legislator should stand for it.
Governor Hassan threatened to veto this bill. She is making a big mistake. The Legislature has generously funded her past requests for appropriations to address opiate problems. If more money is needed, she should follow the proper path of asking for more in the normal budget process.
Moving money to the general fund benefits not only New Hampshire citizens, but also the men and women in law enforcement who will not have to worry about the loss of reputation from receiving funds from the property they seize and forfeit.”