J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · April 7, 2017

Late yesterday, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter vetoed HB  202a, which would have tightened the state’s civil forfeiture laws. Civil forfeiture allows law enforcement agencies to permanently confiscate and keep property without charging anyone with—let alone convicting them of—a crime. Even worse, Idaho received failing grades from the Institute for Justice for its utter lack of forfeiture transparency and accountability.

“Idaho’s reform bill would have created new safeguards for the innocent and shined a light on many abusive practices, empowering citizens and lawmakers alike to hold law enforcement accountable,” said Institute for Justice Attorney and Idaho native Dan Alban. “The governor’s veto sends a deeply troubling message.”

Under HB 202a, agencies would have been required to report if they charged the owners when seizing property, if seized property was returned or forfeited, and the value of the forfeited property.  Additionally, the bill would have created a “replevin” process to allow owners to use their property while the forfeiture case was ongoing (not including items taken for evidence), while courts could reject and reduce excessive and disproportionate forfeitures.

HB 202a received widespread bipartisan support, passing the Idaho State Legislature by overwhelming margins, and earning praise from both the ACLU of Idaho and the Idaho Freedom Foundation. The governor vetoed it anyway, claiming the bill was a “classic case of a solution in search of a problem” and lacks “any benefit to law-abiding citizens.”

“Law enforcement cannot have it both ways,” said Lee McGrath, senior legislative counsel at the Institute for Justice. “Police and prosecutors cannot oppose reforms by claiming there is no evidence of a problem while, at the same time, block bills that would require agencies to report what they seized, how much they gained from forfeiting property and if they even filed any criminal charges.”

The governor’s veto isolates Idaho as one of the very few Western states without forfeiture reform.  Late last month, Utah banned forfeitures for claimants found not guilty. Lawmakers in Arizona and Colorado are considering comprehensive reporting requirements for forfeiture. California, Montana, Nevada and Oregon all now require criminal convictions for most or all forfeiture cases. And most sweeping of all, Republican governors in Nebraska and New Mexico signed landmark legislation to abolish civil forfeiture and replaced it with criminal forfeiture in their states.