It is rare for lawmakers from opposing parties to completely agree on a particular topic. When they do, the correct path is often so glaringly obvious that it transcends party lines and truly promotes the common good. Such was the case earlier this year when a bill regarding the forfeiture of assets seized in criminal investigations was put to a vote in the Connecticut legislature. In both the House and Senate, the measure was passed unanimously, and earlier this week, Governor Dannel P. Malloy signed the bill into law. The new law looks to protect the rights of citizens by requiring a conviction before the government can permanently confiscate a person’s assets and property.
Understanding Asset Forfeiture
Private assets are often seized by law enforcement and government entities when a person is arrested on criminal charges. If the assets are deemed to be related to criminal activity, the government may look to keep them permanently either as part of the criminal proceedings or in a separate matter in civil court. Prior to the passage of the new law, however, civil asset forfeiture did not require the property owner to be convicted first. Estimates suggest that Connecticut police departments and prosecutors generated nearly $18 million in asset forfeiture between 2009 and 2016, with nearly two-thirds coming from civil proceedings without requiring a conviction.
The practice, in theory, could be used in the battle against large-scale criminal operations, including drug cartels and organized crime. Many, however—including groups like the American Civil Liberties Union—see asset forfeiture without a conviction as a type of government-sanctioned armed robbery. They point out that in 2016, half of civil forfeitures involved property valued at less than $600. Such low amounts also suggest that the defendants likely did not have the financial means to dispute the forfeiture in court.
Under the provisions of the new law, property cannot be permanently confiscated unless it is seized in connection with a lawful arrest or a lawful search that yields an arrest. The defendant must be convicted, plead guilty, or complete a diversionary program before the state can begin forfeiture proceedings, including in civil court.
While the law is being praised as a major step in the right direction, there are lingering concerns over how the proceeds of asset forfeiture will continue to be used. Connecticut will still allow police and prosecutors to keep 69.5 percent of forfeited assets, which could provide an incentive for such entities to seek out cases where significant asset seizure may be possible. There are also no statutory reporting requirements or oversight for how forfeited money can be spent. This means lawmakers and the public have no idea what the police and prosecutors are doing with seized assets.
Seek Help Today
If you have been arrested and had your property seized by law enforcements in connection with your arrest, you need assistance immediately. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in Connecticut and let us go to work on your behalf. Call [[phone1]] for a free consultation at Woolf Law Firm, LLC today.