The Arizona Legislature has passed legislation that would tighten policies on asset seizures, leaving it up to Gov. Doug Ducey to decide whether to overhaul the state’s civil forfeiture laws.
House Bill 2477 by Republican Rep. Eddie Farnsworth is meant to reform rules dictating when prosecutors can seize the property of those suspected of a crime. Officers can currently seize property based on suspicion alone without the need of a conviction or a charge. Police and prosecutors acquire the funds after seized property is forfeited.
Farnsworth has said he thinks some people, like Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery or Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, don’t need the oversight the bill calls for.
“But obviously there are people that do, and we make laws for people who are not going to be good actors, we don’t make them for the people who will be good actors,” Farnsworth said.
The full Arizona House passed the amended measure on a 55-1 vote Monday, sending it to the governor’s desk for consideration. Republican Rep. Becky Nutt voted against the bill and read aloud a letter from Arizona Sheriffs Association opposing it. The Senate unanimously approved the bill earlier this month.
The vote on the measure comes after recent inquiries into whether officials in Pinal County have misused seizure profits and a misdemeanor guilty plea from a former top Pima County official to misusing RICO funds in February.
The bill would change Arizona’s civil asset forfeiture laws to require prosecutors to prove property was involved in a crime by “clear and convincing” evidence, a step above the current standard.
Opponents say the changes would cause logistical issues for county boards of supervisors and county attorneys. They also criticize the bill’s further standard of proof requirement and the claim that excessive seizures take place.
Montgomery has said he has made his opposition to the measure clear to the governor.
The governor said last week he thinks this is an area of law that is in need of reform, although he didn’t say whether he would sign the measure.
Associated Press reporters Bob Christie and Jacques Billeaud contributed to this story