Washington, D.C.-based civil-liberties watchdog Institute for Justice joined in the applause for Gov. John Hickenlooper’s decision Friday to sign into law a much-debated rollback of state and local law enforcement’s civil-forfeiture powers. The new law includes a number of checks on those powers including a provision that drew dogged opposition from Colorado’s law-enforcement agencies: State and local agencies in most cases no longer will be able to get federal forfeiture funds for collaborating with the feds on busts.
The bipartisan legislation was introduced by Reps. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, and Stephen Humphrey, R-Eaton, in the House and Sens. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, and Tim Neville, R-Littleton, in the Senate.
Using civil forfeiture, police and other law-enforcement agencies can seize cash, cars, homes and other assets from those merely suspected of involvement in crimes. No one need be convicted of a crime or even charged with one. The policy has generated a lucrative revenue stream for law enforcement at all levels of government — fueling a years-long debate between law-and-order politicians reluctant to rein in the practice amid the War on Drugs and civil libertarians who contend the seizures are an affront to the Bill of Rights.
In a press statement, the Institute for Justice lauded Hickenlooper and said Colorado set a new standard:
“Colorado now has the best laws in the nation, hands-down, for seizure and forfeiture transparency,” said Institute for Justice Senior Legislative Counsel Lee McGrath. “Through its comprehensive disclosure requirements, this law will play a vital role in keeping both the public and legislators well-informed about civil forfeiture in Colorado.”
… “Colorado has created an exemplary model for other states to follow, particularly in shining a light on forfeiture spending and making seizure and forfeiture activity readily available online,” said Jennifer McDonald, an IJ research analyst, who co-authored a report on forfeiture transparency and accountability. “The state should ensure that these requirements are properly implemented in the months to come.”
The institute’s full press statement includes a helpful recap of the new law’s key feature as well as an explainer on the federal “equitable sharing program” under which Colorado, according to an analysis by the institute, received some $47 million between 2000 and 2013. Here’s the link again.