Ohio Law Would Seriously Curtail Scope of Civil Forfeiture in Ohio


  • Photo courtesy of Bob Hall via Wikimedia Commons
Although criminal justice reform proponents are currently heartsick over the prospects of their cause in the upcoming Donald Trump Administration, action is still progressing on the state level. One Ohio fix to the courts and cop world could become law this week.

Ohio House Bill 347 passed that part of the legislature last May. The bill is expected to sail through a Senate vote this week. Once the proposal becomes law, Ohio's law enforcement will be seriously curtailed from getting their hands on money and assets from criminal defendants.

And although the law had bi-partisan support, it has been met with serious pushback from police and prosecutors.

Under civil forfeiture, police departments can keep monies and other valuables confiscated through criminal investigations. Those funds are then used by police departments and prosecutor offices for a variety of purchases.

And while no gains gotten through crime should be just handed back to criminals, the incentive has dangled a pretty enticing carrot before law enforcement, and there have been blatant examples of police departments going after criminals with forfeiture in mind, and plenty others where forfeiture has been used against innocent people or those guilty of very low-level offenses.

The Ohio bill seeks to curb that. According to the Columbus Dispatch, the bill was cooked up by the U.S. Justice Action Network, a "coalition of conservative and progressive organizations." Under the proposal, civil forfeiture would only be possible in situations where the owner is dead, the property goes unclaimed, or the suspect can't be found.

The original, stronger version of the bill would have cut out asset pocketing all together. That proposal, however, was attacked by Ohio law enforcement and prosecutors as taking away a useful crime prevention technique.

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