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Dear Assembly Law & Public Safety Chairman Taliaferro:
On behalf of Americans for Prosperity – New Jersey, our tens of thousands of activists across the state and our 3.2 million activists across the nation, thank you for your leadership in calling a hearing this Thursday to discuss the abuses of civil asset forfeiture in the state.
In addition to the ACLU’s recent report, the Institute for Justice uncovered a county prosecutor who had a slide presentation with all sorts of outrageous comments like “If in doubt…take it!” That same county prosecutor was using interns to file forfeiture complaints. Sean McMurty in Mercer County noted in a training that flat screen TVs “are very popular with the police departments.” Regarding law enforcement department wish lists, McMurty said, “If you want the car, and you really want to put it in your fleet, let me know – I’ll fight for it … If you don’t let me know that, I’ll try and resolve it real quick through a settlement and get cash for the car, get the tow fee paid off, get some money for it.”
Please consider posting bill A-3442 for a vote in your committee. AFP-NJ launched a coalition of groups last year in support of civil asset forfeiture reform, and A-3442 is a step in the right direction. See here for a copy of the coalition letter.
This bill establishes common-sense reporting requirements to shed needed light on New Jersey’s out-of-control civil asset forfeiture epidemic. New Jerseyans have a right to know how much of their property is seized by law enforcement each year and how proceeds are spent. This is basic, bipartisan-supported due diligence for our controversial civil asset forfeiture policies, ranked among the worst in the nation by watchdog groups, such as the Institute for Justice.
A-3442 will create a central, publicly available database of forfeitures. From what little research has revealed, the problem is enormous. Between 2009 and 2013, New Jersey authorities forfeited nearly $60 million in property, and another $70 million through federal cooperation between 2001 and 2013.
Without due process protections or oversight, these numbers are no surprise. New Jersey authorities need only meet the lowest standard of evidence to seize property allegedly used in a crime. Innocent owners are saddled with the burden of proof for recovery. Even worse, local law enforcement agencies can retain 100% of forfeiture proceeds. This creates perverse seizure incentives that go far beyond the original policy intent. In other states, departments have even used forfeiture funds to buy margarita machines and zambonis. This system represents the very worst of abusive government interference with property rights. Meant to protect us from criminals, forfeiture too easily devolves into a form of legalized theft.
Through basic reporting requirements already unanimously passed by the Senate, A-3442, will help us understand how our innocent-until-proven guilty tradition is being subverted. It’s time for the New Jersey Assembly to pass A-3442, which is why AFP-New Jersey encourages you to post it for a vote.
Thank you in advance for your consideration.
Erica L. Jedynak