After a disappointing defeat last year at the hands of Gov. Matt Mead (R-Wyo.), Wyoming state lawmakers will consider two separate proposals that would protect innocent property owners from government overreach. The Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee will review the draft language of both bills at a meeting in Gillette on Thursday.
Wyoming’s current civil asset forfeiture laws are among the worst in the United States. The government can subject seized property to forfeiture by showing only probable cause — the same standard of evidence needed to obtain a warrant. In a stroke of legal fiction, seized property is considered guilty until proven innocent by the owner, who may never be charged with a crime. For these reasons, FreedomWorks gave the Equality State an “F” in our scorecard, Civil Asset Forfeiture: Grading the States.
The Wyoming Legislature tried to address these problems in the 2015 session. In February, legislation, SF0014, that would have required a criminal conviction before property could be forfeited by the government passed both chambers, which are controlled by Republicans, by overwhelming margins. Unfortunately, Mead, a former federal prosecutor, almost immediately vetoed the bill. An override attempt failed in the state Senate.
Mead argued that Wyoming does not have the same abuses found in other states that justify legislative action. “I understand the debate. I agree with the scrutiny. Wyoming has passed the test. We use the law as it was intended to be used,” he said in his veto message. “We should not solve a problem that…