In Arizona, police can seize your property, sell it, and keep the money to fund their own budgets without so much as charging you with a crime. Under civil forfeiture laws, police and prosecutors can even seize your property after you’ve been found not guilty of a crime. The Arizona Daily Star reported that a Picture Rocks woman who was acquitted of animal cruelty and dog fighting charges in November 2008 was recently ordered to hand over the property where she raised the dogs.
Prosecutors need merely to show by a preponderance of the evidence the property was connected to criminal activity rather than by the criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” By giving law enforcement the ability to keep money and property that has been seized, Arizona’s laws encourage policing for profit, not for justice.
According to a new national report, “Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture," Arizona has some of the nation’s worst civil forfeiture laws, earning a grade of D-. Arizona’s grade should come as no surprise; a 2004 Goldwater Institute report came to the same conclusion, but the Legislature has taken no significant action to curb forfeiture abuse.
To protect Arizonans’ property rights, lawmakers should:
• Require police and prosecutors to get a criminal conviction before taking someone’s property.
• Remove the profit incentive for police by placing forfeiture money into the state general fund or another neutral fund.
• Forbid state and local agencies from participating in a practice called “equitable sharing,” by which state and local police turn property over to federal agents for seizure and then everyone splits the proceeds.
People shouldn’t lose their property without being convicted of a crime and law enforcement shouldn’t be able to profit from other people’s property.
Tim Keller is executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter and co-author of the 2004 Goldwater Institute Report “Policing and Prosecuting for Profit: Arizona’s Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws Violate Basic Due Process Protections.”
Institute for Justice: Policing for Profit
Arizona Daily Star: Woman must forfeit property