ICYMI: The LIBRE Initiative Testifies in Favor of Protections Against Civil Asset Forfeiture
(Washington, D.C.) – Carli Dimino, Director of Policy Engagement for The LIBRE Initiative, testified yesterday before The Wisconsin State Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform in favor of Senate Bill 61. Senate Bill 61 seeks to protect individual’s property rights by ensuring that law enforcement cannot seize property before an individual is convicted of a crime.
Dear Members of the Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform, on behalf of The LIBRE Initiative, a national non-partisan, non-profit grassroots organization that advances the principles of economic freedom to empower the Hispanic community here in Wisconsin and across the country, I urge the passage of Senate Bill 61. This proposed bill would protect innocent property owners in Wisconsin from having their property taken through civil asset forfeiture by requiring a criminal conviction in order for forfeiture to take place; it also eliminates the incentive to seize property from innocent people by requiring that proceeds be deposited in the school fund.
Civil asset forfeiture allows law enforcement agencies to take property that they suspect is connected to criminal activity, or that represents the profits of wrongdoing—all without convicting the property owner of a crime. Cash, cars, and even houses have been seized under this program.
Nationwide, civil asset forfeiture disproportionately impacts Latinos and other minorities. In Wisconsin, 6% of the population is Hispanic, with median annual earnings of $20,000. It’s difficult to know the full scope of this impact because there is often little oversight, and insufficient data on the victims of asset forfeiture. But studies in multiple states bear out who the victims are. In Oklahoma for example, Latinos make up only 10 percent of the state’s population, yet accounted for nearly a third of all property forfeiture cases of at least $5,000 from 2010-2015. And in Florida, one in four Hispanics say that either they or someone they know has had property seized by police without being charged with a crime. It’s no surprise then that, nationwide, a majority of Latino voters—and all voters, for that matter—oppose asset forfeiture.
Civil asset forfeiture can create a strong incentive to indiscriminately seize property regardless of whether the victim is guilty or not. Instead of allowing departments to pocket the cash proceeding from seizures, this bill would require the money be deposited in the state’s school fund, as intended by the Wisconsin Constitution.
The proponents of S.B. 61 should be applauded for this vital effort to reform civil asset forfeiture. Switching to a system of criminal asset forfeiture – where the owner must be convicted of a crime before the goods can be forfeited – would be an enormous step in the right direction. Forcing proceeds to go to the school fund instead of directly to police departments is also a game changer. Any one of these reforms would be a significant improvement on the current system of forfeiture without charges, convictions, or repercussions for those involved. The LIBRE Initiative urges the swift passage of S.B. 61. Thank you Chairman Nass for holding a hearing and Senator Craig for authoring this proposal.