RICHMOND, Va. (Nov. 30, 2015) – A bill prefiled in the Virginia House 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 laws.
Del. Mark L. Cole(R) prefiled House Bill 48 (HB48) on Nov. 25. The legislation would require a conviction before prosecutors could proceed with asset forfeiture. The bill would allow forfeiture without a guilty verdict “if (i) the forfeiture is ordered by the court pursuant to a plea agreement or (ii) the owner of the property has not submitted a written demand for the return of the property within one year from the date the property was seized.”
The Institute of Justice called Virginia’s current asset forfeiture laws “some of the worst in the nation.”
“In order to forfeit property in Virginia, the government need only show by a preponderance of the evidence that property is related to criminal activity. Innocent owners also bear the burden of proving that they had nothing to do with the alleged criminal activity in which their property has been implicated. Worst of all, Virginia law provides a tempting incentive to seize property as it allows law enforcement to retain 100 percent of forfeiture proceeds: Participating agencies keep 90 percent of the bounty, while the balance goes to the state’s Department of Criminal Justice Services.”
The proposed legislation does not…