AFP-Wisconsin Backs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill

May 30, 2017 by AFP

AFP-Wisconsin Backs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill

State Director Eric Bott Testifies Before Senate Hearing

MADISON, WI – Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin State Director Eric Bott testified before the Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform today in support of Senate Bill 61 and Senate Substitute Amendment 1. The measures reform Wisconsin’s civil asset forfeiture laws while protecting important law enforcement tools.

“Strong private property rights and due process of law are twin pillars of a free society,” said Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin State Director Eric Bott. “Civil asset forfeiture directly conflicts with both principles. Citizens deserve better than the status quo.  It is appalling that the state can take private property from Wisconsinites who haven’t been convicted of a crime. We call on our lawmakers to pass these commonsense reforms and strengthen the rule of law in our state.”

 

You can read Eric Bott’s full testimony as prepared for delivery below:

FROM: Eric Bott, State Director, Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin

TO:    Honorable Members of the Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform

RE:     Support Senate Bill 61, Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

On behalf of more than 130,000 Americans for Prosperity activists in Wisconsin, I would like to thank you Chairman Nass and members of the committee for holding a hearing on Senate Bill 61 (SB 61) and Senate Substitute Amendment 1 (SSA 1), civil asset forfeiture reform.

Americans for Prosperity exists to recruit, educate and mobilize citizens in support of the policies and goals of a free society at the local, state, and federal level, helping every American live their dream – especially the least fortunate.  Two polices foundational to any free society are robust private property rights and due process of law.  Civil asset forfeiture conflicts with these principles.

We believe that the average member of the public would be appalled if they were aware of the extent to which the private property of American citizens can and is routinely seized and forfeited to the state absent a criminal conviction.  This practice runs in direct contradiction to the 5th Amendment to the US Constitution, which states that no person, “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

As in most matters of public policy there is a balancing test at play.  Civil asset forfeiture fails that test.  Opportunities for constitutional abuses are too great.  Examples of the rights of innocent citizens being abused are too common and the burden citizens face when challenging forfeiture is too high.  No matter the public good created by civil asset forfeiture, it does not justify the trampling of fundamental constitutional liberties.

It goes without saying that we appreciate the difficult tasks society asks of law enforcement.  We recognize that they require certain tools to maintain public safety and order.  We are grateful for their work.

To this end, we support SSA 1 to SB 61.  With this substitute amendment, we believe the authors are working to address legitimate concerns raised by law enforcement regarding the bill while maintaining the core goals of the legislation. 

Under SSA 1, a criminal conviction would still be required with limited exceptions for the state to forfeit property. The amendment maintains important provisions improving the proportionality of forfeitures by codifying case law so that forfeitures are relative to the crime committed. It also sets a more appropriate burden of proof for the state and provides additional protections for innocent owners who are roped into forfeiture scenarios without their knowledge or participation in any wrong doing. 

However, SSA 1 makes several important concessions to law enforcement. These include the creation of a criminal asset forfeiture process for narcotics crimes and provisions allowing agencies to purchase forfeited vehicles at steep discounts from the common school fund.  These changes set up a criminal asset forfeiture law in Wisconsin that is far more desirable than the civil process currently in place.  

The committee should vote to adopt the amendment, making SB 61 a stronger, balanced bill and recommend passage by the full Senate. Again, we wish to thank Senator Nass as well as Senator Craig for authoring this proposal.  We also wish to thank Senators Nass, Wirch, and Lasee for co-sponsoring this bill.  We respectfully request that you recommend passage of SB 61 at your earliest possible convenience.

For more information, please contact Eric Bott at ebott@afphq.org.