New Hampshire Passes Key Civil Forfeiture Reforms

Today, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan signed SB 522, which includes several reforms to the state’s forfeiture laws.

“Civil forfeiture is one of the most serious assaults on due process and private property rights in America today,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Rob Peccola. “Under this new law, only convicted criminals—and not the innocent—will lose their property to forfeiture.”

The bill makes key improvements to state law by:

  • Requiring a criminal conviction or a plea agreement to forfeit an owner’s property;
  • Raising the standard of proof required to forfeit property to “clear and convincing evidence”;
  • Shifting the burden of proof from innocent, third-party property owners onto the state—where it belongs; and
  • Mandating that the attorney general reports on how law enforcement agencies use retained forfeiture proceeds.

“SB 522 is an encouraging reform package, but more work needs to be done,” said IJ Legislative Counsel Lee McGrath. “Through the recently revived ‘equitable sharing’ program, New Hampshire agencies have routinely outsourced forfeiture litigation to the federal government. Lawmakers should follow the example of New Mexico and Nebraska and act to close this loophole.”

New Hampshire is now the 11th state to require a criminal conviction as a prerequisite for most or all forfeiture cases. A November 2015 report by the Institute for Justice, Policing for Profit, found that between 1999 and 2013, New Hampshire law enforcement forfeited $1.15 million under state law, but collected more than $17.8 million in equitable-sharing funds from the federal government. Half of all properties forfeited through equitable sharing were valued at under $4,920.

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