Wyoming Liberty Group
WyLiberty Exposes Potential for Abuse by Law Enforcement Agencies
RAWLINS, WY – Wyoming Liberty Group staff attorney Steve Klein testified before the Joint Judiciary Interim Committee today to detail the potential for property rights abuse by police because of civil asset forfeiture in state law.
“The Controlled Substances Act allows the government to take property without ever convicting the owner of a crime,” said Klein. “In fact, the property owner does not even have to be charged with a crime. This law is supposed to help the police fight drug trafficking, but it can be used against innocent people far too easily.”
Klein published a policy paper, Reforming Civil Asset Forfeiture in Wyoming, in December 2013, and lobbied for a reform bill in the 2014 Budget Session. The bill passed the House 58-1 but was voted down in Senate committee. Since then, new information provided by the Wyoming Attorney General’s office has furthered the case for reform.
“We now know that the median value of property seized in a case—usually cash, cars and firearms—was about $2,000 from 2008 through 2013,” said Klein. “Property owners are not provided an attorney in forfeiture hearings, and when the amount at issue is so low it’s not worth hiring an attorney, anyway. Even if the property owner gets his or her property back, the process takes months and the state does not pay any fees, interest, or compensation for lost time.”
Klein emphasized that the flaws with civil forfeiture are in the law, not with Wyoming law enforcement.
“Civil forfeiture has been terribly abused in some states, and Wyoming should be proud it’s not one of them,” said Klein. “However, our law should ensure that can never happen here by adding protections for property owners and implementing strict oversight of the process.”
The interim committee will meet again in July and September before the 2015 General Session.