INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Dec. 29, 2015) – A bill prefiled in the Indiana Senate for the 2016 legislative session would reform the state’s asset forfeiture laws, making it more difficult for police to seize property. But a loophole in the legislation would allow law enforcement to work with the feds to skirt the more stringent state law.
Sen. Lonnie Randolph (D-2) prefiled Senate Bill 123 (SB123) earlier this month. The legislation would require criminal conviction of the property owner before finalizing asset forfeiture. As it stands now, Indiana law enforcement officers can seize assets they suspect were involved in criminal activity without even making an arrest.
The bill also creates a mechanism for the owner or interest holder in property to file for hardship release of the property, and requires a judge to ensure any legitimate seizure of property is proportionate to the offense.
SB123 would represent a strong reform of Indiana’s asset forfeiture laws and go a long way toward protecting the rights of property owners, but the legislation leaves a gaping loophole that would render the reforms virtually ineffective in practice. The bill needs to include amendment language to stop state and local law enforcement from turning cases over to the federal government, thereby circumventing any restrictions placed on asset forfeiture at the state level.
This very scenario plays out frequently in states with strong asset forfeiture laws like California. Police simply avoid such restrictions by turning cases involving seized assets over to the feds. In return, state and local…