From: ("Leon")
Subject: FEAR: UTAH Politicians target forfeiture law
Date: Thu, 14 Nov 2002 13:29:24 -0600

Naive me; I thought forfeiture was a tool for fighting crime -- not a tool to make money with. I would really like to know -- has crime risen dramatically since the initiative was implemented?



State targets forfeiture law 
By Amy Joi Bryson
Deseret News staff writer 
Sunday, November 10, 2002

State-initiated property seizures are at a standstill, and Utah law enforcement has given up more than $2.5 million in federal money since the current drug forfeiture law was approved by voters two years ago.
Legislators hope to fix some of what they say are the unintended consequences of a law that makes seizing property associated with drug crimes nearly impossible for police.
Proposed amendments to the law are under review by state and local prosecutors and are scheduled for presentation to the Legislature's Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice interim committee later this month.
"I think everyone wants to protect innocent people from having their property seized," Kirk Torgensen, the attorney general's chief criminal deputy, said. "The issue is this (voter initiative) law created all kinds of problems unknowingly."
A subcommittee of the state's Commission on Crime and Juvenile Justice has drafted some fixes to the law, which received an overwhelming amount of voter support in the 2000 election.
Police and prosecutors were stymied at the outset of the law's implementation, however, and sued to have it struck down in federal court.
Although a section of the law was clarified in the ruling, the judge deemed it was constitutional.
Torgensen said the law essentially abolished the ability of local police agencies to pursue asset seizures through drug forfeiture cases.
"State forfeitures came almost to a halt because there were so many problems the initiative created," Torgensen said.
The current law inflicts such strict liability on law enforcement in seizure cases that agencies have found it wiser to simply stop, Salt Lake County assistant district attorney Clark Harms said.
If, for example, a seizing agency at some point in the forfeiture process agrees that some or all of the property can be returned to the defendant, the agency automatically has to pay all attorney fees.
Harms said one of the proposed changes leaves that to the discretion of a judge.
Both Harms and Torgensen said the law has had a significant impact because of the loss of federal dollars.
"Any of that property seized federally and forfeited federally, 80 percent of it would have come back to local law enforcement in Utah without local law enforcement even involved in the case," Harms said. "We don't get that money."
In fiscal year 2001, the Drug Enforcement Agency had forfeitures of more than $1.4 million, and the next fiscal year it was $1.2 million, he said.
The law also technically wiped out a state restricted fund account that acted as a repository for any proceeds from state agency forfeitures.
Harms said $179,000 is left in that account that no one can touch until the statute is changed.
"That is where the share of money went to await legislative appropriation. Initiative B did away with that account, and no one knows what to do with it."
Both Harms and Torgensen said the proposed changes keep the heart and intent of Utah's forfeiture law in place, while making it more workable for law enforcement.
The elevated burden of proof in civil forfeiture proceedings, which went from a preponderance of evidence to "clear and convincing" evidence, remains in place.
It is proposed that state and local law enforcement be eligible to receive up to 50 percent of the proceeds from property ordered seized and retained, but the allocation of those assets has to be overseen by the agency's political entity.
Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said he's willing to sponsor legislation to amend Utah's forfeiture law.
"There's some agreement we'd like to see some changes made in the next session." 


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