IJ Promotes Forfeiture Reform in the District of Columbia

August 1, 2013

On July 11, 2013, the D.C. City Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety held a hearing on the Civil Asset Forfeiture Amendment Act of 2013. IJ Attorney Darpana Sheth testified on behalf of IJ in favor of the reform bill.

D.C.’s existing civil forfeiture law assaults property rights and violates due process. The bill would substantially improve D.C.’s forfeiture law by: 1) directing all forfeiture proceeds to a general fund, eliminating the profit incentive under current law where law enforcement agencies financially benefit from items they seize; 2) providing a prompt and meaningful opportunity to contest seizures; 3) raising the burden of proof on the government to show that the property can be forfeited; and 4) restoring the presumption of innocence.

Darpana brought together a coalition of allies to testify in support of the bill, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Public Defender Service, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, as well as forfeiture victims.

D.C.’s Attorney General testified against the bill, introducing an alternative proposal that addressed only the lack of a prompt hearing. Committee Chairman Tommy Wells expressed serious concerns about civil forfeiture, especially the government’s financial incentive to take property. The bill is likely to go before the full council in the fall.

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