Late yesterday, the Connecticut Senate unanimously approved HB 7146, which would require a criminal conviction before police can permanently confiscate property. Unlike criminal forfeiture, which targets the property owner and occurs only after a conviction, civil forfeiture sues the property itself and allows the government to permanently keep property without charging anyone with a crime.
HB 7146 would split the difference by requiring a conviction in criminal court as a prerequisite to a Connecticut state’s attorney litigating the forfeiture in civil court. The bill previously passed the House without a single vote against, and now heads to Gov. Dannel Malloy for signature.
“Civil forfeiture is one of the most serious assaults on Americans’ private property rights,” said Institute for Justice Senior Legislative Counsel Lee McGrath. “The bill is a solid first step to ensure that innocent people do not lose their property to this appalling legal nightmare. Gov. Malloy should sign this important, bipartisan legislation.”
In Connecticut, law enforcement agencies use both civil forfeiture and criminal forfeiture but have overwhelmingly preferred civil forfeiture. According to a report by the Institute for Justice, civil forfeiture generated roughly 67 percent of all forfeiture proceeds from 2009 to 2013. During that same period, local and state law enforcement carried out 3,750 civil forfeiture cases—more than three-quarters of all forfeiture cases. Last year, half of all property forfeited through civil forfeiture was under $570, according to the Reason Foundation.
If enacted, Connecticut would join 13 states that currently require convictions for most or all forfeiture cases under state law, including New Hampshire and Vermont. Since 2014, 21 states (most recently Iowa) have tightened their state forfeiture laws, while further legislative efforts are currently pending in at least six other states.
“Along with our bipartisan coalition partners at the ACLU of Connecticut and the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, we will keep fighting until civil forfeiture in Connecticut is abolished, once and for all,” McGrath added.