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Civil Asset Forfeitures

This 2005 Dodge Ram 4X4 SLT was refitted for law enforcement use after the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office seized it in a drug bust.

The concept of “innocent until proven guilty” is the mortar that holds together America’s legal system. Every single person accused of a crime get his day in court, and is presumed innocent until that day comes.

But for years, that concept has been debased by civil asset forfeiture laws. The laws allow law enforcement to seize assets like cash or cars if you’re arrested on suspicion of a crime.

This week, Idaho lawmakers took a step toward rectifying the blatantly un-American practice. House members on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation that scales back when and what assets police officers can seize, and streamlined the process of reporting asset forfeiture.

This is good for Idaho, and good for America. In a state that holds its personal freedoms in such high regard, it’s a clear win for Idahoans.

Now the bill just needs to clear the Senate and the governor’s desk.

Last year, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter vetoed a similar bill that had broad bipartisan support, arguing that he wasn’t aware of any cases where officers were abusing their power. But even if the entire state’s police force is squeaky clean – which, based on sheer probability seems unlikely – the principle of civil asset forfeiture is anti-democratic, regardless of its application.

As Idaho’s standing civil forfeiture law reads, a person doesn’t even need to be charged with a crime in order to have property seized. A 2016 Times-News investigation revealed one case where a police took $9,000 in cash from a couple caught with a small amount of pot. Neither person was charged, nor suspected of drug trafficking.

There’s a reason this bill has rare bipartisan support in our world of political polarization. It’s unequivocally American, as evidenced by more than a dozen other states joining Idaho in either deconstructing or eliminating civil asset forfeiture laws.

Civil forfeitures have slipped through the cracks of the American legal system for long enough. We urge the Idaho Senate, and especially Gov. Otter, to appreciate this bill’s bipartisan support and pass it as law.

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