J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · March 22, 2018

On Wednesday, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter signed a bill to tighten the state’s civil forfeiture laws, which allow the government to permanently confiscate and keep property without charging anyone with—let alone convicting them of—a crime. With the governor’s signature, Idaho becomes the 26th state to pass civil forfeiture reform in the past four years.

“Idaho’s reform creates new safeguards for the innocent and shines a light on many abusive practices,” said Institute for Justice Attorney and Idaho native Dan Alban. “By bolstering transparency, Idaho’s new law will empower citizens and lawmakers alike to hold law enforcement accountable.”

The newly signed bill, HB 447 will:

  • Require agencies to report if they charged the owners when seizing property, if seized property was returned or forfeited, and the value of the forfeited property. Previously, Idaho received failing grades from the Institute for Justice for its utter lack of forfeiture transparency and accountability;
  • Ban vehicle forfeitures based on nothing more than minor drug possession;
  • Set up a “replevin” process to allow owners to use their property while the forfeiture case was ongoing (excluding items taken for evidence); and
  • Allow courts to reject or reduce forfeitures that are excessive and disproportionate.

“HB 447 is certainly a welcome step forward, but by no means does it eliminate the problems with Idaho’s civil forfeiture laws,” Alban added. “The government will still be able to forfeit property without a criminal conviction, while law enforcement agencies can still keep up to 100 percent of the proceeds from confiscated property. We urge Idaho lawmakers to further strengthen protections for property rights in the next legislative session.”

HB 447 received widespread bipartisan support, passing both chambers of the Idaho State Legislature without a single vote against it, and earned praise from the ACLU of Idaho and the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

Idaho now joins a growing, nationwide movement. Last week, Wyoming banned roadside waivers used to pressure drivers to “give” their cash to law enforcement officers during traffic stops, while both Nebraska and New Mexico have abolished civil forfeiture outright.