NEWCASTLE, WY – Wyoming Liberty Group staff attorney Steve Klein testified before the Joint Judiciary Interim Committee of the Wyoming Legislature today regarding two committee bill drafts that would substantially change the practice of civil forfeiture in Wyoming.
“The Wyoming Controlled Substances Act currently allows police officers to seize property simply because they believe it’s intended for use in a drug crime,” said Klein. “Then the property owner must go to court and essentially prove the property is legitimate. Police have seized cars, cash and even firearms in Wyoming without even charging the owner of a crime and these bills would end this practice.”
The first proposed bill would keep the practice of civil forfeiture, but would heighten reporting requirements by law enforcement, place a greater burden on the government to permanently take someone’s property, and put forfeited funds under the authority of the legislature.
“The first bill would bring the practice of civil forfeiture in Wyoming into the light and allow for meaningful oversight of the practice, as well as provide significant protection for property owners,” said Klein. “However, the fact remains the police could still seize and forfeit property without convicting the owner of a crime, a fundamental violation of property rights and due process.”
The second proposed bill, an alternative to the first, would end civil forfeiture and require a person to be convicted of a crime before losing his property. In criminal court, defendants are entitled to an attorney if they cannot afford one and may have their case heard before a jury. The bill also requires the Attorney General to report forfeiture data each year to the Judiciary Committee.
“Both bills are strong reforms, but the second one is by far the best,” said Klein.
The proposed bills incorporate suggestions provided by Klein at the previous Judiciary Committee meeting in May, which were based on a brief published late last year. The committee will continue to consider both bills at its next meeting, September 11-12 in Laramie.