Saturday, May 21, 2016

CONYERS Sensenbrenner, Goodlatte, Jackson Lee, Walberg, Roskam Unveil Bill to Protect Americans’ Property Rights

Civil asset forfeiture reform is part of the House Judiciary Committee’s criminal justice reform initiative

Washington, D.C. – As part of the House Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan criminal justice reform initiative, Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), Crime Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Representative Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), and Representative Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) today introduced bipartisan legislation to protect Americans’ property rights through civil asset forfeiture reform. 

In order to strengthen protections for Americans’ property, H.R. 5283, the Deterring Undue Enforcement by Protecting Rights of Citizens from Excessive Searches and Seizures Act of 2016 (Due Process Act),provides much needed reforms to federal civil asset forfeiture programs, increases accountability and oversight of seizures and forfeitures, and strengthens protections for Americans whose property has been seized by law enforcement agencies.

Ranking Member Conyers, Crime Subcommittee Chairman Sensenbrenner, Chairman Goodlatte, and Crime Subcommittee Ranking Member Jackson Lee praised the introduction of the Due Process Act in the statements below.

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
Ranking Member Conyers: “It has increasingly become apparent that the procedures in federal law governing civil forfeiture are inadequate and unfair, and therefore I am proud to cosponsor the Due Process Act.  We must change federal law so that the burden is on the government to prove that a property owner is not innocent, to raise the burden of proof, to afford initial hearings to property owners to determine whether a seizure is legal or would pose an undue hardship, and to make other improvements consistent with due process. There will be more to consider in the future, but this bill is a significant step toward rebalancing the scales with regard to a process that is too-often abused.” 

Crime Subcommittee Chairman Sensenbrenner: “Forfeiture is a critical tool in the fight against crime, but it is also vulnerable to abuse. The Due Process Act, among other things, will increase transparency and add protections for innocent property owners, including the opportunity to contest seizures and regain illegally seized property immediately. Reform to the current federal forfeiture laws is necessary to curb abuse, restore confidence in law enforcement, and help citizens protect their property rights.”

Chairman Goodlatte: “In recent years, there have been several incidents in which innocent Americans have had their property or money improperly seized by law enforcement. While asset forfeiture is a useful law enforcement tool, abuses of it clearly show that reform is needed now to better protect Americans from having their property wrongfully seized.

“The Due Process Act rightfully reforms civil asset forfeiture to prevent incentives to wrongly seize Americans’ property. The bipartisan bill also strengthens protections for Americans who have had their property confiscated by law enforcement and increases the accountability and transparency of this law enforcement tool. I look forward to taking this bill up in Committee soon and thank the many members, including Representatives Sensenbrenner and Walberg, who have worked on and championed this important issue.” 

Crime Subcommittee Ranking Member Jackson Lee: “I am pleased to join with the Crime Subcommittee Chairman, Jim Sensenbrenner, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Bob Goodlatte, and our Committee’s Ranking Member, John Conyers, Jr., in introducing bipartisan legislation to reform our federal civil forfeiture laws.  We must make important changes to the procedures and standards that determine when the government may take property from those not charged with a crime.  For instance, it is critical that we give greater opportunity to innocent property owners to successfully challenge unwarranted forfeiture and the burden should not be on them to prove their innocence.”

Key Components of the Due Process Act:

Reforms federal civil asset forfeiture programs
·         Enhances procedural protections of forfeiture proceedings in both civil and administrative settings and prevents government overreach
·         Increases the government’s burden of proof in civil asset forfeiture cases to help protect innocent victims

Strengthens protections for claimants
·         Creates a right to counsel for Americans in all civil asset forfeiture proceedings
·         Provides that a claimant may recover attorney’s fees in victorious cases against a government forfeiture
·         Speeds up the process for the government to notify the property owner of a seizure
·         Expands protections to innocent owners by requiring the government to prove the connection between the property and the offense and that the property was used intentionally in order to seize it

Increases accountability and oversight of seizures and forfeitures
·         Requires the Inspector General to conduct a yearly audit on a representative sample of federal civil forfeitures to ensure they are being conducted within the letter and spirit of the law
·         Requires the creation of two federal databases on forfeitures in order to make information more readily available to the public, including a catalog of federal forfeitures to assist those whose property has been seized and to provide broad details on the types of forfeiture, agencies involved, and the conduct that lead to forfeited property

Original cosponsors of the bill are Representatives Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), David Trott (R-Mich.), Mimi Walters (R-Calif.), and Cedric Richmond (D-La.).
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