Delaware Approves Modest Transparency Reform on Police Seizures

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · June 29, 2016

Today, Institute for Justice Legislative Counsel Lee McGrath released the following statement on Delaware Gov. Jack Markell’s signing HB 309:

“Lawmakers are finally shining a light on Delaware’s secretive Special Law Enforcement Assistance Fund (SLEAF). Under this bill, SLEAF will no longer be exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information Act. HB 309 will provide some much-needed transparency and will hopefully inform the public about how forfeiture funds law enforcement.”

“Unfortunately, the bill will still allow the SLEAF Committee to decide which applications for SLEAF funds will be made public, limiting the law’s effectiveness. Although HB 309 is a welcome first step for reform, it does not address Delaware’s scant protections for property owners or the state’s perverse incentive to police for profit.”

“Confronting these issues head-on, state Sen. Colin Bonini introduced SB 222, the Asset Forfeiture Process and Private Property Protection Act. Following reforms enacted in New Mexico and Nebraska, Bonini’s legislation would abolish civil forfeiture entirely and would generally allow forfeiture only after a criminal conviction. The bill would also re-direct forfeiture proceeds away from SLEAF and towards the general fund. Despite bipartisan support for this bill, SB 222 has been stuck in committee since April.”

A 2015 report by the Institute for Justice gave Delaware a D- for having “some of the worst civil forfeiture laws in the country.”