J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · March 1, 2017

The Indiana Senate overwhelmingly passed SB 8 yesterday, an important overhaul of the state’s civil forfeiture laws. Currently, Hoosiers do not have to be convicted of a crime, much less charged with one, for the government to take their property through civil forfeiture.

Under the bill, the government would first need to secure a criminal conviction before forfeiture could occur. SB 8 would also shift the burden of proof from innocent third-party owners onto the government—where it belongs—and require “clear and convincing evidence” to forfeit property.

“SB 8 would go a long way toward securing the property rights of all Hoosiers,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Sam Gedge. “At the same time, the bill would still allow law enforcement agencies to ‘reimburse’ themselves using forfeited property. Indiana police and prosecutors have exploited this sort of loophole for years to funnel millions of dollars into their own budgets.”

To challenge this type of “policing for profit,” the Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit in 2016 on behalf of forfeiture victims and concerned Hoosier families. That case is still ongoing.

Authored by Sens. Philip Boots, Michael Young and Dennis Kruse, SB 8 passed the Senate 40 to 10. The bill now heads to the House.

If SB 8 is enacted, Indiana would join a growing, nationwide reform movement.  In the past two years alone, 19 states and the District of Columbia have reformed their forfeiture laws. Twelve states currently require convictions for most or all forfeiture cases. And the national party platforms of both the Democrats and the Republicans endorsed forfeiture reform last year.