ANNAPOLIS, Md. (March 10, 2016) – A Maryland bill that would reform asset forfeiture laws to prohibit the state from taking property without a criminal conviction passed the house this week, but an amendment approved during the process creates a loophole that would allow law enforcement to work with the feds to skirt the more stringent state law.

Sen. Michael Hough (R-D4) introduced Senate Bill 161 (SB161) in January. The legislation would reform Maryland law by requiring a criminal conviction before prosecutors could proceed with asset forfeiture. Under current law, the state can seize assets even if a person is never found guilty of a crime, or even arrested.

SB161 unanimously passed the House 46-0.

FEDERAL LOOPHOLE

As introduced, SB161 closed a loophole that allows prosecutors to bypass more stringent state asset forfeiture laws by passing cases off to the federal government under its Equitable Sharing forfeiture program.

A LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY OR PROSECUTING AUTHORITY MAY NOT DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY TRANSFER
OR REFER SEIZED PROPERTY TO A FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AGENCY OR LAW ENFORCEMENT AUTHORITY FOR FORFEITURE UNDER FEDERAL LAW UNLESS

1. THE PROPERTY  INCLUDES  SEIZED  CASH  IN  EXCESS OF $50,000;

AND

2. A  CRIMINAL CASE RELATED TO THE SEIZURE IS PROSECUTED IN THE FEDERAL COURT SYSTEM UNDER FEDERAL LAW.

But the amendment added an additional mechanism opening up that loophole to allow transfer to federal authority if:

A STATE OR LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY TRANSFERS THE PROPERTY TO A FEDERAL AUTHORITY UNDER A FEDERAL SEIZURE WARRANT ISSUED TO TAKE CUSTODY OF…