New Hampshire Will Shine a Light on Government Agencies Seizing, Forfeiting Property

Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill on Friday that will require New Hampshire’s law enforcement agencies to disclose their forfeiture activity. Sponsored by Sen. Harold French, SB 498 will, at a bare minimum, require the attorney general to post an annual, online report that details the type, value and disposition of all property seized on the state and local level, as well as the amount of forfeiture proceeds “received or expended.” In addition, the attorney general’s report must “provide a categorized accounting of all proceeds expended.”

That should shed light on the state’s secretive forfeiture spending. According to the Institute for Justice, the Granite State forfeited $1.15 million from drug-related seizures between 1999 and 2013, or more than $82,000 per year. And under state law, law enforcement can collect up to 90 percent of the proceeds from forfeited property: local law enforcement receive 45 percent, while another 45 percent is sent to the state drug forfeiture fund.

SB 498 will also allow the attorney general to implement additional reporting requirements as it sees fit. New Hampshire is certainly in dire need of reform. When the Institute for Justice graded states on six key metrics for forfeiture transparency and accountability, New Hampshire received failing grades for five of those elements.

“We at the Institute for Justice look forward to working with the Attorney General’s Office to ensure New Hampshire’s forfeiture reporting is meaningful and comprehensive,” said Institute for Justice Senior Legislative Counsel Lee McGrath. “Wide-ranging transparency requirements are vital for keeping both the public and the state legislature well-informed about civil forfeiture in New Hampshire.”

SB 498 builds on previous reform efforts. Back in 2016, New Hampshire enacted a law that requires a conviction in criminal court before the government can forfeit property in civil court. The 2016 reform also required the attorney general to provide a “detailed accounting” of grants paid for by the state drug forfeiture fund, a disclosure requirement that will be expanded upon in 2018.

Nationwide, 29 states and Washington, D.C. have tightened their forfeiture laws since 2014. Most sweeping of all, both Nebraska and New Mexico outright abolished the practice of civil forfeiture and replaced it with criminal forfeiture.

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