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Wyoming Liberty Group Plays Key Role in Reforming Civil Asset Forfeiture

CHEYENNE, WY –Wyoming Governor Matt Mead signed Senate File 46 this afternoon, which amends civil asset forfeiture under the Wyoming Controlled Substances Act. The bill passed the Wyoming Legislature with a final vote of 90-0. It implements a preliminary hearing for property owners, increases the evidence required to forfeit suspected drug property, and provides legal fees to property owners when the state fails to prove its case for forfeiture, among other changes.

“Under the current law, Wyoming police may seize and prosecutors may permanently take property—including cash, cars and firearms—that they believe is related to the drug trade,” said Steve Klein, WyLiberty staff attorney. “The property owner does not have to be convicted or even charged with a crime for this to happen. This bill goes a long way toward fixing that.”

Klein authored a Liberty Brief, “Reforming Civil Asset Forfeiture in Wyoming,” published in December, 2013. Recommendations in the paper, including requiring clear and convincing evidence for forfeitures and enhancing legislative oversight of the forfeiture process, are reflected in Senate File 46. WyLiberty’s lobbying efforts in the 2014 and 2015 sessions as well as throughout the 2015-16 interim produced significant information about the practice of forfeiture in the state, and supported the passage of a law requiring criminal conviction before forfeiture last year. Following the veto of that bill, WyLiberty joined in supporting the committee bill that became Senate File 46.

“Ideally, the law should require criminal conviction before prosecutors can forfeit property,” said Klein. “Nevertheless, the reforms in Senate File 46 are significant and the new law will respect due process and property rights far more than current law.”

The bill’s passage marks the third year in a row that the Legislature has considered asset forfeiture reform bills. The bill will go into effect on July 1, 2016.

“I appreciate the persistence of the Joint Judiciary Committee to address this issue through two legislative interims,” said Klein. “Credit is also due to the Attorney General’s office for its work in drafting Senate File 46, the Legislature for coming together for unanimous passage, and Governor Mead for signing the bill.”

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